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A Crippling Digital Divide: Social Injustice Caused by Advertisements Part 2

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Today, America’s attitude towards consumption exacerbates the digital divide between higher income individuals and lower socio-economic groups. In Time’s Luxury Survey, research shows a surge in consumerism with those born between 1980 and 2000. “Because [18-27 year olds have] grown up in the age of dotcom billionaires, wealth and success are a given” (Time, 2008). At the turn of the century came the invention of the smartphone. In 1992, IBM’s Simon was a concept smartphone that initiated the trend of handheld devices (Schneidawind, 1992). While this technology evolved into the sleek, status-fulfilling must-have-item, a sense of inherent exigency began to dominate young adults. The category “looking stylish is important to feeling good about myself” had a 93% approval vote from young adults (Time, 2008). The smartphone’s timely introduction during the turn of the century has taken advantage of America’s new fashion; consumption.

What further deepens the digital divide is advertisers’ selection of who is depicted using what product. In another commercial, Boost Mobile promotes its Anthem 2.0 phone. Among others, rapper Young Jeezy advertises the new product by using lines of his material to promote the practicality of Boost Mobile’s deal offered sublimely through the thirty second clip (Boost Mobile, 2007). In this instance, Boost Mobile promotes their Anthem 2.0 to a young, pop-culture-fixed consumer population. With several rappers promoting their product, Boost Mobile attracts the attention of not only the youth, but a black population as well. In contrast with this specific commercial, Apple products are geared towards a white population. In a commercial promoting a Macintosh computer, actor Justin Long utilizes wit and charm to depict the sharp edge of Apple products (Apple, 2007). There is a drastic difference between these two commercials; it is easy to see who is to be using what brands of technology.

It is no coincidence, then, that the racial divide in America factors into the digital divide. Preying upon crude stereotypes, commercials depict more than who should be using what form of technology; they depict a financial gap between the races that is prevalent in today’s society. “The poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites was lower than the poverty rates for other racial groups…For Blacks, the poverty rate increased to 27.4 percent in 2010, up from 25.8 percent in 2009” (Census Bureau, 2010). This conveys that the white population is more financially sound to purchase expensive technologies such as the Macintosh computer in the Apple commercial. “Broken down by race and ethnicity, African American residents of rural areas and central cities had the lowest level of access to computers (6.4 and 10.4 percent), followed by central city Latinos (10.5 percent)” (Modarres, 2011). Computers allow for more than social networking, emails, and entertainment; the limitations of a smartphone. Computers enable a white population to a more expansive spread of technology, information, and internet use.

From this difference between the levels of access to the internet derives a social injustice. While there exists a digital divide between upper and lower socio-economic classes, there is a misconception that smartphones are closing the gap by allowing access to the internet.

“While there is a distinction between using a phone for communication and using it to access digital information, it should be equally obvious that having a smart phone is not the same as having a networked computer (laptop or desktop) that allows the user to create and manage a business or a community Web site” (ibid).

Non-white, typically poorer consumers are able to purchase cheap deals from companies like Boost Mobile and the issue of the digital divide appears to be solved. However, smartphones only allow for a limited access to the internet. Social networking does not equate to a full, complete use of the internet, and assuming that smartphones are bridging the digital divide is ethically harmful.

The social injustice, then, is the limited internet access poorer individuals have and the misperceptions of affluent individuals who believe that smartphones are a legitimate portal for a full access to the internet. This inhibits the poor from gaining better access to knowledge as well as cripples young peoples’ education.

“The most devastating consequences of the digital divide are the long-term effects it will have on today’s youth. Lacking access to technology and computer skills, an entire generation will be disempowered from realizing its full potential to contribute to society” (Koss, 2001).

Furthermore, the statistics from the US Census Bureau support Time’s concept of young adults’ intrinsic need for material goods. While more expensive computers would be more beneficial in an educational setting for today’s youth, cheaper, more attainable, and incomplete smartphones are fashionable and more captivating for young people to purchase. The media drives this social injustice by depicting who is to buy what products by feeding off of racial stereotypes. As a result, innovations, such as smartphones, are frequently built on top of misconceptions. Change, in this instance, is restrained by empowered advertisers. As Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change.” The hold that advertisers have on their consumers disproves Heraclitus; people will buy what is trendy and ignore the social injustice that they create for themselves.

References

Apple. (2007, January 9). Get a mac-surgery [Video file]. Video posted to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci2D1ig4df4

Alverman, D. E. (2004). Media, Information Communication Technologies, and Youth Literacies: A

Cultural Studies Perspective. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(1), 78-83. doi:10.1177/0002764204267271

Boost Mobile. (2011, April 6). Working man [Video file]. Video posted to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZX6tHkW7xg

Boost Mobile. (2007, December 23). Anthem 2.0 rap commercial [Video file]. Video posted to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnvYBtZNowU

Coupland, D. (1991). Generation x, tales for an accelerated culture. St. Martin’s Griffin.

Koss, F.A. (2001). Children Falling into the Digital Divide. Journal Of International Affairs, 55(1), 75.

LaGesse, D. (2001). So many gadgets and so little time. U.S. News & World Report, 130(2), 36.

Modarres, A. (2011). Beyond the digital divide. National Civic Review, 100(3), 4-7. doi10.1002/ncr.20069

Pain. S. (2006). The phone that roared. New Scientist. 190(2550).

Schneidawind, J. (1992). Big blue unveliling. USA Today.

The Luxury Survey. (Cover story). (2008). Time, 17158-59

U.S. Census Bureau. (2009, October). Current population survey, reported internet usage for

households, by selected householder. Retrieved December 3, 2011, from http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/2009.html

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010, September). Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the united

states: 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2011, from http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-239.pdf

35% of American Adults Own a Smartphone. (2011, July 11). PewResearchCenter Publications. Retrieved

December 3, 2011, from http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2054/smartphone-ownership-demographics-iphone-blackberry-android

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Written by Jack Viere

December 5, 2011 at 11:30 am

4 Responses

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  1. This post really made me think about the connection of technology and race. I think it is an interesting comparison that is often over looked. Now that you pointed it out I realize Apple products are really geared toward the white race. I try to think why this is but I am lost. Another flaw of Apple, which we have discussed in several of my classes this semester, is the outsourcing of jobs in order to create the product desired by all. Our lives and the workers in these countries revolve around this technology but for different reasons. We often use it as sources of entertainment, while the workers despise it yet recognize it is necessary to sustain his or her job. I do have an iPhone but I try not to be consumed by it, although the accessibility is hard to avoid. Many things in life that are privileges should be rights such as the access to technology like a computer. How do you expect these people to find jobs and make a living for their families if they do not have access to technology, what this world seems to revolve around?

    Jess

    December 8, 2011 at 12:35 am

    • Education usually is the end-all-problems-solution that I believe can fit any issue at hand. However, I must say that education (from kindergarten to college) places a ridiculous emphasis on technology as if it’s the only means for academically succeeding. So even when there’s a list of positive uses that white users get from desktops/laptops (like the Modarres quote I used-see below), I wonder if 2009’s 9.3% black high school dropout rate has anything to do with the consumption of “limited technologies” like smartphones. My point being that if blacks don’t stay in school, are they more prone to see technology for a different use, like you mentioned, such as entertainment and social networking?

      “…that having a smart phone is not the same as having a networked computer (laptop or desktop) that allows the user to create and manage a business or a community Web site” (Modarres, 2011).
      Here’s the site I quickly googled for that 9.3% stat…
      http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16

      Jack Viere

      December 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm

  2. Your comment about the crude use of stereotypes in advertisements was very insightful.Stereotypes although subliminal and unnoticed can be very powerful images. For example, in the apple commercial the PC was depicted as a white male business man dressed in a typical black suit and tie. The Mac is a fairly young white male dressed in casual clothing. The white male representing the PC wore glasses, was larger than the younger man, and had a clean cut haircut. The while youth representing the Mac did have glasses, possessed a skinnier and muscular composition than the male representing the PC. These auxiliary features add to the stereotype and are our brains associate these representative heuristic with other qualities. The image of a PC being a business man is associated with boredom, monotony. The image of the Mac being a youthful, contemporary male is associated with efficiency and modernity. You can tell how the Mac can seem more attractive to consumers . Powerful tool for business but these representative heuristics can be detrimental to society as well.

    Gabriel

    December 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    • The way advertisers manipulate their consumers with subliminal messages, yet rely heavily on their purchases, makes me think of that scene in one of the newer Batman movies when the drugs are being dumped into Gotham’s water supply. (Cheesy analogy!) But my point is that we draw this line between “bad consumption” for vices like drugs and prostitution and “good consumption” for Macs and PCs. Is there really a difference when those that are selling are taking advantage of their buyers? I don’t really think so…what IS different is the actual product. But the subliminal messages are not so subliminal if we are to wake up from our passive state in which we see ourselves comforted and supported by the omnipotence of technology.

      Advertisers= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCELYhYlLtU&feature=related

      Jack Viere

      December 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm


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