Kleshas and Tanhas

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A Crippling Digital Divide: Social Injustice Caused by Advertisements Part 1

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Statistics are biased; they only depict numbers, not people and their identities. The theses that are developed from predisposed statistics are mere coincidences that are shared among human populations. As a result, innovations are frequently built on top of misconceptions. Change, in this instance, is brought about erroneously by empowered individuals. As Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change.” This would prove to be dangerous if change was coerced and manipulated by several individuals to capitalize the least advantaged.

Today’s youth is more technologically savvy than the elderly. Cultural studies conducted in the early 21st century point to their ability to multitask:

“Youth of all ages…use media in junction with various information communication technologies…to communicate with their peers and relatives, to say current in what matters to them, to shop, to relax, to create personal Web pages…among other things.” (Alverman, 2004.)

As a result, advertisements target an age group that is more susceptible of being concerned with what is fashionable. Technology feeds the youth’s inborn disease of multitasking that never existed in their parent’s generation. The only formidable explanation for Generation X’s (Coupland, 1991) use of technology is its strong attraction to convenience. Advertisements select to whom specific pieces of technology are to be sold. Their shift in focus to adults defines their product as sophisticated for professional use. For example, email shortens the previous time it would take to send snail-mail. Still, Generation X does not idiosyncratically partake in social networking, nonverbal communication, and entertainment as today’s youth so avidly does. By gearing advertisements towards a younger generation, advertisers force today’s youth to become more susceptible to consume spontaneously.

Fabian Koss, one of the founders and coordinators of the Inter-American Working Group on Youth Development, has measured technologies’ effect on the youth. Initially, he defines the digital divide as “the gap between individuals…at different socio-economic levels and their opportunities to access information and communication technologies” (Koss, 2001). Within this definition there are two factors that are rudimentary to not only the definition of the digital divide, but to the social injustice it creates; socio-economic levels and individuals’ access.

The poor have insufficient financial means to access technology. “In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009” (Census Bureau, 2010). This can be seen as the digital divide; the socio-economic gap between the wealthy and the impoverished. But is this an entirely fair or just assumption? Are certain socio-economic groups lacking information and communication technologies? If they are, is this evidence alone enough to deem the digital divide a social injustice?

Before the increase of handheld devices, the digital divide was misunderstood; poorer neighborhoods did not have access to telephones and computers. “The poorest households in central cities had the lowest level of access to telephones (with a market penetration rate of 79.8 percent), and the rural poor had the lowest level of access to computers (4.5 percent)” (Modarres, 2011). But with the invention of smartphones and social networking, individuals gained access to cheap technology. While the prices of computers and laptops remained high, the destitute skipped the basic technological “necessities” such as a telephone.

Modern technology for individual use has a timeline beginning with the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 (Pain, 2006). Subsequently, abled consumers connected the dots from one product invented for the individual to the next. Most notable of these products on the timeline in the 21st century are the digital camera, desktop PC, and the cellphone (LaGesse, 2001). As a result of technologies being fashioned for individuals, a stark contrast grew between the consumption of material goods between the affluent and the poor.

This contrast between the haves and the haven-nots creates the groundwork for the misconception wealthier socio-economic classes have better access to the internet than the poor. While the wealthier have a more obvious financial means to purchase desktop computers and Wi-Fi, this does not lead to the conclusion that poor people, who do not have financial means for desktops and Wi-Fi, do not have access to the internet. This is a hasty generalization; to assume that the only method of reaching the internet is from computers, and only the wealthy have access to these computers.

The digital camera, desktop PC, and cellphone have been combined into one piece of technology: a smartphone. An added characteristic sets smartphones away from telephones and cellphones: internet access. Pew Research Center Publications has found that 35% of American adults own a smartphone. Of these smartphone users, “87%…access the internet or email on their handheld device…25% of smartphone owners say that they mostly go online using their phone, rather than with a computer”(Pew Research, 2011). These statistics suggest two points, the first being that there is a large portion of the adult population using smartphones. Cheap deals and advertising directed towards specific archetypal individuals enable for users of all types. A Boost Mobile commercial titled “Working Man” depicts a man’s busy workday:

He holds several positions of employment such as a construction worker, delivery man, window washer, desk temp, and toilet cleaner. As he scrubs the toilet, he uses his smartphone to send a message saying, “How many jobs do I need to pay for a cellphone bill?!” The commercial ends with “$50” dropping by increments of five dollars until it reaches “$35” (Boost Mobile, 2011).

At $35, Boost Mobile offers a low monthly rate for calling, texting, and internet access. This is Pew Research’s second point: smartphones offer internet access. In this advertisement, the lower and middle classes are offered access to the internet.

While the destitute may be left without any financial means, even for food, water, or shelter, lower income individuals are tempted by bargains like Boost Mobile’s $35 monthly rate. “Even among those with a household income of $30,000 or less, smartphone ownership rates for those ages 18-29 are equal to the national average…44% of blacks and Latinos are smartphone users” (Pew Research, 2011). This statistic addresses the misconception that only the wealthy have access to the internet. Through smartphones, the less-advantaged have access to the internet. In fact, the United States Census Bureau holds that 57.5% of high school graduates have access to internet. This percentage is dwarfed by college graduate’s 88.5% (Census Bureau, 2009). However, those who are capable of attaining a job after high school, like those vocations depicted in the Boost Mobile’ commercial, are able to gain access to the internet. This is not to say that non-high school graduates and the poor necessarily have internet access; statistics show that out of the people who do not graduate high school, 32.2% have internet access (ibid). Low income households and individuals are able to access the internet; typically through smartphones.

To be continued…

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Written by Jack Viere

December 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm

2 Responses

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  1. In response to your comment on my latest post, yes, I also believe that the generation of today is becoming socially inept due to living so much of their lives on the internet now. However, this has created a new view on relationships and socializing all together. Because in many cases talking to and meeting people on the internet creates situations and conversations that would never had been had, if you just bumped into this person for the first time ever at a social gathering. Behind the screen, we feel safe to be who we really are, just like how a person behind the wheel of a car will swear and make foul gestures at other drivers… because we are safe behind the glass, in our own little world. All the honking and cussing is generally accepted now, yet we’d never start yelling at a person in front of us that is walking a little too slow for our liking, would we?

    Also, sure, the socializing itself has become more and more awkward, but as for making friends, what truly constitutes a friendship? Do you need anything other than considering yourself to be someone’s friend and for them to consider you theirs to call it a friendship? Can a person not make you feel happy, uninhibited, excited, challenged, comforted and understood simply through words typed in a small chat-window, just as well as they could had you been there with them in person?

    So at the same time as we have become more inadequate at expressing ourselves in real life situations and making new friends in the physical world, we are also having more deep, philosophical and honest conversations with others on-line than we could ever have had with a person we’d started talking to just five minutes ago in the grocery-store.

    theswedishflowerpot

    December 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    • I agree that the screen puts quite a distance between us and the victims of cyber bullying. It’s an interesting contrast; people use social media to become closer, or rather, close the distance gap between friends. But really, in the instance of bullying, we see that there is a huge gap between the bully and his/her victim.
      I just studied Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics on Friendship. And from my general understanding, the sharing of similar interests would support social media’s networking to connect us to those with similar friends (an Aristotelian trait as well,) and make a more wholesome friendship. However, Aristotle also points out there are three varying types of friendship: virtuous, utility-based, pleasure-based. The “wholesome” kind that we are saying cannot be transmitted through technology includes a sense of proximity to our friends. (Living together is actually what Aristotle has in mind, but in today’s society, that would look like a hippy commune.) But I also saw that we see ourselves in our “wholesome” friends, and I can’t say that we can are able to see ourselves through a screen. (Maybe the reflection of the computer screen :P)
      And no, we cannot be comforted to the same level we would be in person. We cannot transmit our compassion or an intuitive sense of understanding human beings have through technology.

      Jack Viere

      December 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm


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