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Divide and Conquer? Not Here

The digital divide. It feels like it’s been a few years since I first heard the term so it’s interesting to see what the status on this issue is now. I had the pleasure of living in Chaska when the city tried to bridge the divide with Wi-Fi. It sounded cool, cheaper. We tried it. Man, was it awful. I think there was some password we had to type in to connect to the internet, and the connection would take forever. Apparently, we didn’t live close enough to the box (not sure what they’re called) that was strapped to the lamppost. I’m vague about this because we didn’t use it for that long. Between my dad and me, we needed something faster so we switched back to the cable company. I’ve not kept up with what Chaska has, but apparently, there is high speed chaska.net.

I thought it was interesting to pose the question of which one of the solutions we’d put money towards. I sat in silence until I realized that it is quite an impossible answer. In the group I was talking with, someone picked citywide wireless as the one to fund. My first thought was – what is someone who has no clue what they’re doing going to gain from citywide wireless? The next thought then was that all those solutions had drawbacks. For instance, digital technology centers are great for helping people who don’t know much about the internet and showing them how to get around, but as the MPR article mentioned, there can be a long wait for a computer. Citywide wireless can help solve that issue. The solutions seem complementary to me. Where one solution has a downfall, another solution plugs up the hole. The next problem, though, is that are we looking at one solution to solve the problems all over the world or regional? Citywide wireless isn’t really going to help people in Africa if they don’t have the infrastructure to do it. But it will work well in the U.S. And I liked how Shayla pointed out that what would it be like if you came to the U but had no computer/internet background? And how scary would that be? Wow. For everything that has to be done online at the U and other private entities moving online (banks, credit card companies – everything concerning your paycheck is online for the MN employees. Nothing is paper, not even the W2), to not know how to get at any of it – well, that really underscores how big of a problem this divide is to me. And that’s why I would say the divide is a bigger problem to tackle than what will happen to newspapers. There will always be news – it’s just a matter of the industry figuring out the best way to report it now. Obviously, I don’t want to see the hard copy paper disappear, but if people can’t get online to read the news and interact with it, then we are just making life harder for those without the proper access to be successful.

All right, so I actually listened to the Kevin Kelly talk on the next 5,000 days of the web before Peter Fleck spoke to the class. Or somewhat listened as I was trying to read something else at the same time. So knowing that Peter Fleck was going to talk about the digital divide, I started to wonder why he wanted us to watch this video. By the end of Kelly’s talk, yeah, I was little freaked out about this “machine” knowing everything about us. It reminded me of the movie I, Robot where that A.I. VIKI starts thinking it knows what’s best for us humans and sends out the robots to “guard” and “protect” the humans by scaring the bleep out of everyone. No thanks; I don’t want to see a Machine like this in the future. So in trying to connect this with the digital divide, I was like, are people who don’t have access now supposed to be glad they aren’t putting all their information out there for this creepy Machine to know about? But I suppose the more realistic thing to think is no access means you’re left out and if we become dependent and interconnected with this thing, then it’ll be harder for people who aren’t connected to function in society properly…ok, whatever. I’m sticking with my first thought.