A computer in every household: In the 1990s, policy makers, researchers, pundits claimed that making sure that everyone, especially children from low-income families, having access to computers and the internet was the key to eliminating the “digital divide.” But as a recent New York Times article details, just providing everyone with technology is no guarantee that it will be used in the idealized ways envisioned. As access to computers, the internet and mobile devices has grown,
…children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.
This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.
A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that children in families whose parents do not have a college degree spent “90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families.” In contrast, they spent only 16 minutes more in 1999. Children whose parents had a college degree spent 11.5 hours of every day “exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets,” an increase of four hours and forty minutes since 1999.
Children whose parents were more educated — understood as a measure of higher socioeconomic standing — also used computers and other devices primarily for entertainment and for ten hours a day, a 3.5-hour jump since 1999.
Do We Need to Create a “Digital Literacy Corps”?
The difference is great enough that the Federal Communications Commission is considering a $200 million proposal to create a “digital literacy corps” to instruct parents, students and others about “productive uses” of technology, through libraries and schools.
As the New York Times quotes Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft:
Access is not a panacea. Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.
Boyd goes so far as to say that “we failed to account for this ahead of the curve,” that computers could be the source of so much entertainment, and time-wasting; that, left to their own devices, kids will find ways to use technology that aren’t what the adults intended. Vicky Rideout, author of the Kaiser study, says the same:
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. Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.
I suspect most parents could have noted that.
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