There has never been a time when we’ve relied more on digital tools to enable communications between people and teams.
All the hype about how “working from home” is a great new answer is annoying in its shortsightedness. But that’s not what concerns me. I am more concerned about who is left out of this digitally-powered world, where commerce, education, and entertainment are all available to those with high-speed internet, newish computers and the ability to find and deploy all the necessary Apps like Slack, Zoom, Grammarly, and so on, to say nothing of the need for a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Here’s a great point made by Texas Tribune:
At times, not having broadband is just an inconvenience. It would be nice to have Netflix or Hulu, maybe, but not essential. But when the people running your city or county tell you to stay home and work from there, or when the schools close and offer classes only online, internet access becomes a necessity.
Texas has 440,000 households with no access to broadband. Because it’s not available.
Furthermore, just 65.6% of Texas households have adopted broadband. Texas has about 7.5M households and 28M residents. 34.4% of these households have no broadband–because it’s not available or they can’t afford to subscribe—which translates to about 2.5M households or 9,000,000 people in Texas with no broadband.
In certain circles, fast pipes are a given. But one of three Texas households currently goes without. Because it’s not available or they can’t afford it.
In Addition to Zip Code and Socioeconomic Status, Age Can Be Another Divider
Kate Conger and Erin Griffith of The New York Times make a poignant point about senior citizens and their adoption of technology that many younger people now take for granted.
As life has increasingly moved online during the pandemic, an older generation that grew up in an analog era is facing a digital divide. Often unfamiliar or uncomfortable with apps, gadgets and the internet, many are struggling to keep up with friends and family through digital tools when some of them are craving those connections the most.
According to a 2017 Pew Research study, three-quarters of those older than 65 said they needed someone else to set up their electronic devices. A third also said they were only a little or not at all confident in their ability to use electronics and to navigate the web.
Zoom has a series of instruction videos to help all new users.
But how-to videos may are not enough. Help your family members and neighbors figure it out. Patience and generosity are the way forward.
Cultural and Political Differences Also Not Helpful
Simply having access to information is far from enough to solve digital divisions and the societal problems that result from severe inequities.
The majority of Americans do have access to multiple screens and all the programming offered herein. But none of it adds up because information is not the same as instructions. There is no manual for surviving COVID-19, for instance, just a lot of information, which individuals must process on their own terms.
Independent thinking and analysis aren’t normal activities for a lot of people, and while individuals must process difficult information on their own terms, the truth is that’s not how it works. We are social creatures and like wolves, we organize in packs.
Right now, there are packs of social shamers roaming the web. When they find an offensive story, they pounce and render their collective verdicts, even though the subjects of their attacks are typically not online to hear any of the criticism. The point is to find offensive actors from afar and attack them vigorously from behind the safety of screens.
The above screed (which I pulled from Twitter this morning) may be technically correct, but it’s also dripping in self-righteous judgment.
The self-righteous social shamers can’t, for the life of them, imagine why some Americans would flaunt their freedoms while the good people of the nation behave themselves and safely sequester themselves. Sadly, these same people can’t see beyond their own QWERTY keyboard or human pack. There are millions of people in this country who do not use or process media the way I do or you do. One can find this maddening, but raging against media illiteracy or willful ignorance of plain-as-day facts isn’t going to make you or anyone else feel better or bring us one step closer to understanding.
It’s true that millions of people in this country who could use a reality check, and it’s equally true that millions more badly need a chill pill, a gut check, and/or a healthy dose of perspective.