Quotulatiousness

December 19, 2012

The “digital divide” didn’t play out quite the way they thought

Filed under: Economics, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In Gregg Easterbrook‘s weekly NFL column, he often discusses non-football topics like this one:

A decade ago — perhaps as recently as five years ago — analysts and educators feared a “digital divide” in which the affluent have access to advancing electronics and the disadvantaged do not, granting the affluent yet another edge in life’s contest. But what if the reverse has happened?

[. . .]

That made this article striking, with research showing children from disadvantaged families now waste more time with video games and on the Internet than do children from affluent homes. Publicly subsidized programs to provide computers and Internet to the disadvantaged were rationalized as tools for education. How are they actually used? The article quotes Vicky Rideout, author of a study on the subject, saying, “Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment.”

Video games are a really tempting way to avoid studying. If they had been around when I was a teen, there’s no way I would have read so many books or spent three or four hours after school each day at the high school, doing extracurriculars and sports. I might instead have wasted my time with electronics.

Girls and women are taking over college admissions; 57 percent of undergraduate students at four-year colleges are female. There are many reasons, and surely one is that teen girls waste less time on video games than teen boys do. If disadvantaged teen boys are wasting more time than affluent teen boys, that makes the picture worse.

Conservative commentators often “harrumph” about rising living standards for the disadvantaged, many of whom now have air conditioning, laptops and other items once associated with affluence. It’s good that living standards are rising, and it’s good that the digital divide is disappearing. The spread of computers and Internet service into disadvantaged homes creates equity in access to the information and services available on the Web. But society needs to be aware of the downsides of electronics. Those computer and software gifts being opened this holiday season might, especially for teen boys, backfire.

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