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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

Strays, Abandoned Buildings, Garbage

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Sure signs of poverty. I find it frustrating, to say the least, when educated people have a tendency to stress the importance of poverty outside of our country over our destitute neighbors here in America. I must admit that before arriving in Philadelphia, my priorities for where resources such as time, talent, and money were to be spent had not been set. My hometown afforded me that luxury. Yet, here I am. I enter a wormhole on Route 1 that bisects our gated university and somehow find myself transported to another world as I head off to service. A heavily impoverished world, completely separate from the affluent culture of university living. The gates bordering the university are more than just physical boundaries; they exist as the wool pulled over many students eyes, (myself included) prohibiting them from experiencing (noticing) the poverty they actually live among.

I would make it a point that my frustration is not focused on students’ tendencies to choose the pathos-invoking, starving children somewhere halfway across the globe. I actually take great pride in my school’s incredibly proactive, socially aware community. Nor is my frustration to say that there exists no sense of urgency in third world countries that also suffer from poverty’s inflictions.

My frustration derives from a fuller context of our larger society: Americans turn a blind eye to its own poverty. And in doing so, they can sleep easy knowing that they pitied some foreign country that made it on to CNN for thirty seconds. Maybe it’s this sense of sympathy; maybe Americans have enough sense to innately feel that sympathy alone towards another American is un-American. Maybe we really can tell the difference between sympathy and empathy in that our sympathy shown to our neighbors really is ineffective. Sympathy doesn’t help anything. And we know it is because our neighbors will tell us it is so. People get fed up with the pity card. We therefore shift our pity to some distanced country that cannot communicate its frustration with our passive sympathy; we are distanced from the problem.

I had the chance to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail last night. And yes, the racial context of his writing may seemingly appear contrasted with my point about poverty. Yet, when you remove the racial tone from his thesis just for a moment, you get a similar frustration with America’s poverty. “…the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” (As a side note, I would argue that the racial tone should not be removed because every time I go to service in north Philadelphia, my service partner, a traffic guard, and myself are the only Caucasians to be seen.) Nevertheless, King goes on to depict his disappointment for the white moderate:

“who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advices the Negro [impoverished] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

Could his words be anymore perennial? I would argue that if you cannot see the truth of his words in today’s context, you should take a walk around the “shady side” of your town on a beautiful day. I have had this opportunity for the second time while at service. The hairs on the back of my neck instinctively stood up as I walked passed peoples’ homes with shattered windows and deteriorating wood work. I had Kim, an employee at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries and local/native of the area, point out her grandmother, who I received a beautiful blessing from impromptu, as well as her cousins and friends. We pushed wheelchairs around the detours on the split sidewalks. It was impossible to go 25 yards without hitting some break in the pavement that made it impossible to transverse in a wheelchair.

Cats were in a great host in various abandoned residences. Not the average feline either; more of the stray breed. I saw a pit-bull at one point. No collar and no owner to be found. Garbage piled alongside the curbs, windswept to their permanent homes. As our little caravan ambled through the “sketchy” section of town, I couldn’t help but notice that money was not the only factor that was keeping the community from improving their immediate area. Garbage just simply needs to be picked up and thrown in a bag. And, even if the streets were lined with garbage bags until the garbage truck came by, it would sure cut the similarities between America’s streets and third world countries’. The latter seems to be what people seem are more sympathetic towards anyways…

But back to the point: why don’t people just pick up their garbage? I think the apparent answer is their desolation; their reaction to being overly sympathized by fellow Americans-the ones who still sympathize over Americans instead of distant peoples in foreign lands. They’re tired of being left to fend for themselves. They’re tired of being thrown the most pathetic bone ever: sympathy. The solution: start becoming empathetic and proactive by curing the blind-eye people turn when words like homeless, hungry, and Americans are strung together. Helping our immediate surroundings is an immediate cause-effect scenario. There’s no middleman, no tariffs on shipping foreign aid, and there’s no lack of proximity between the affluent and the destitute. Both of them are right around the corner!

Written by Jack Viere

November 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm