Friday, July 27, 2007

The Digital Divide: Getting Access To The Debate

Now that some of the dust has cleared from the CNN/YouTube debate there have been some thoughtful reactions to CNN’s staging of the debate. Jennifer L. Pozner’s WIMN’s Voices has an extremely interesting reflection video by independent media producer Stephanie Mackley, better recognized as the woman who asked about energy consumption in her bathroom.

Some of her responses are both informative and insightful – she susses out more information regarding the ratio of women-submitted videos and realizes that the initial reaction to being on TV made her (temporarily) lose sight of the fact that Anderson Cooper completely misdirected her question from a policy discussion to one of personal responsibility.

But one important thing Mackely notes is that she’s hardly a veteran of video-blogging. As she states:

The thing I’d hope you’d take away from this is that you can have a huge impact on the media discussion with relatively little effort. I posted my very first video a month ago and have since seen it on CNN as a question posed to the Democratic presidential candidates. So it’s not as difficult as you would think to add your own voice to the public debate that we’re having about the presidential candidates right now or any political topic. And you might end up influencing the debate in ways you would never imagine.
It’s good to remember that commentary isn’t divided into “experts” and “novices” – even in blogging. The technical aspects of providing commentary however probably can seem daunting, whether its putting up a blog or posting something to YouTube.

I meant to point people to this article in the Washington Post a few days ago. Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide which discusses the fact that a few miles from where the debate was staged existed a place where residents could only access the internet, let alone high-speed access, with great difficulty.
There exists "two Americas," as John Edwards, South Carolina's own son, likes to say: an America for the rich and an America for the poor. But what Edwards and the rest of the presidential field have yet to adequately address are the two Americas online: one that's connected to high-speed Internet -- socializing, paying bills, uploading debate questions to presidential candidates on YouTube -- and one that's not. This is the digital divide, now more than a decade old, a rarely discussed schism in which the unconnected are second-class citizens. In some parts of this so-called Internet ghetto, the screech of a telephone modem dialing up to get online is not uncommon. And with dial-up, YouTube is impossible to use.
The digital divide is practically ignored as a political issue.

And though a study released last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that broadband use among African American adults increased from 14 percent in 2005 to 40 percent this year, blacks continue to lag behind whites and English-speaking Latinos. In fact, a great number of American households , especially in rural areas and poorer parts of cities such as Charleston, are without broadband.
"At one level, the YouTube debate shows that the Web has really become a centerpiece of American political culture," adds Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet. "At another level, it also shows that the debate is not for everybody. It's certainly not available to all Americans."
And since the internet is sometimes assumed to be the domain of the young, what will happen if young people grow up with much access? Will they then fall behind their more technologically advanced peers, the kind who have home computers and high-speed connection. That’s why the story about 14-year-old Tiara Reid struck me.
That is especially true at Cooper River Courts, where Tiara Reid, 14, in her jeans shorts and pink striped top, runs up and down the complex asking friends if anyone wants to go the library. Finally her mom, Jossie, who works at a deli, drives her and a neighbor's daughter. With school out and without Internet access at home, the library is the only place where she can go on the Web -- for a maximum of two hours a day. Says Tiara: "It's 10 minutes to get to the library if someone drives you. It's 15 minutes if you take the 30 bus. It's about 30 minutes if you walk."
Sure, she knows how to use e-mail and MySpace, but she’s clearly at a disadvantage because she is not acquiring the same comfort levels with the internet that other children are. And because the internet is such a resource, those who only get it in minimal levels really are deprived of information that is useful, everything from greater access to media to more information about their public schools.

--- Rachel Joy Larris

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