Watching last night’s “Digital Democracy: Who Decides What’s Next?” on PBS, I ran into a quote by the President and CEO of Knight Foundation. I eventually found it on their website:
We believe that if you’re not digital, you’re a second-class citizen. You’re second-class in access to information and second class economically and even socially. In a country where even entry-level job applications must be made online, denial of digital access equals denial of opportunity.
The forum/show was about the changing face of journalism and on how people get the news. I don’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper. I get my news from watching CNN or BBC, and mostly, from independent sources on the Internet. My Internet life, and I call it “Life”, is highly contextualized and coalesced. I am plugged in 24/7, without any sense of guilt or withdrawal. It’s a lifestyle now. I wake up, make coffee, make breakfast, whilst surfing the net for news. My work is also the intersection of education and technology. I feel that participatory democracy begins here, in bytes. That said, I also recognize the foundational problems for those who was referred to last night as the digital age’s second class citizens.
The Digitally Marginalized
The world moves very fast, nary a blink about the ones who are left behind. For centuries, the have-nots give the haves momentary guilt and for the most part, the inclination to simply move on. Life is the becoming of Darwin’s survival of the fittest. If you are poor, it must be your fault, or at least your gene’s.
The digital age has opened the pathways to all walks of life. We are constantly watching people far away. When the recent earthquake hit Haiti, there was a barrage of images in the media, especially on the Internet. We are moving very close to the real lives of those who suffer, the ones who are left behind. We have become a society of spectators. Some of us do extend a hand, some simply look away.
I remember growing up in Manila without a Television. My father had decided to buy us a bookshelf of Encyclopedia, as TV was portrayed as the bane of Filipino existence. That didn’t stop me, as a boy, from watching TV from outside the window of our neighbor’s house. I was always left out of conversations, especially as my young peers discussed the shows they had seen the night before. In my private school, it was totally unimaginable that someone would not have a TV at home.
What my neighbors didn’t know was how much letting me watch their TV meant to my young life. As an educator in marginalized communities, I see the disempowerment of adult learners who have heard of the Internet, but have no idea what it means. They talk amongs themselves on what it can do and what they can find there. Some of the young women in my class thought it would be a good way to find a husband. I’ve had Chinese students who wanted to access newspapers from their homelands. Yet, for many of them, the Internet is still being delivered on a pushcart, while the rest of us are already speeding along the concrete superhighway.
I don’t think my students are any different from me, as I wake up in the morning, press the On Button of my laptop, and idle to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast. I see their lives taking similar shapes in the future, with Internet technology as a career pathway and a multipurpose room to address their many barriers to better opportunities.
Technology these days has so many substructures. The network of devices is appaling and confusing. I gave my mother an Ipod for Christmas and realized she didn’t know how to download music from Itunes. I gave her my laptop, but then she has yet to make the connection between the Ipod and her laptop. Life is not so simple anymore. The complexity of the Information Superhighway pushes many people to second, third classes of citizenry. But I do believe, with more education, anyone can learn and access information. It was such tenacity to learn that my Chinese students in Brooklyn found their Chinese newspapers on-line. From there, they would ask, what else can this do?
Related Reading: F.C.C. Takes a Close Look at the Unwired (NYTimes)