The places where we see the digital divide so clearly are in low-income neighborhoods. This is not because of the lack of computers—although that is a large part of it—but because there isn’t an infrastructure for internet access.
Access is the foundation to truly changing the digital landscape of our country for the better. And with this community, in one of Detroit’s least web-accessible pockets, the people have had enough.
Online is no longer an option
Years ago, SecondLife gave us a scary glimpse into how society might react to long-term exposure to the internet. Thankfully, those Orwellian tales have subsided, but it shows us just how potent the internet can be. And, while not a virtual life, each of us has a good portion of what makes us valuable in society locked up in cyberspace.
Of course, your worth as a person goes far, FAR beyond code. I want to be clear on that. But what I’m talking about is the minutia of every day things like job hunting, making appointments, banking, reading news, and even applying for health care that integrate us with our modern world.
Each of these things has slowly migrated to the internet. This means, lacking access forces you to the fringe of society.
Because of the critical nature of access, then, granting access to the web cannot be limited to just those who can afford it. It has become a utility we can’t exist without, much in same way as telecommunications or electricity did 50 and 100 years ago, respectively. When you think about it in those terms, what this Detroit community is doing can be seen as self-preservation.
We’re not there yet
Even if tomorrow internet access was made universal to everyone in this country, there would still be a digital gap to close. This is because of the other elements needed to make a community digitally healthy. Access is the first component, as we said in the beginning of this post, but here is still the hurdle of giving low-income communities viable, supported computers. Not to mention the education needed to use them.
We have some advantages to our disposal that the culture of Edison and Tesla didn’t have. For instance, most everyone has a smartphone now. It took a significant effort to move 1900s America into the electric age. In our case, it’s not a matter of running cable across the US to supply the signal. That’s already in place. Really, it’s just getting large-screen devices and an internet signal into the hands of these communities, along with a level of support and training, that will make the most difference.
Only when we’ve met these needs can the divide be truly closed. But, as we see with the Detroit community, if we don’t act, the community will get desperate.