Activism, Social Class, and the Digital Divide

So it’s not scientific, and it’s not deeply analytical, but this survey (from Mother Jones magazine and posted on the Engaged Youth blog) caught my eye today as I’m juggling my two intellectual worlds of social class issues and  participatory digital media. The question was “where’s the future of activism”:

I have no idea how the questions were framed or even who the respondents were.
But I see some measure of affirmation here in what’s becoming more clear to me by the day:  Having a voice in these times involves at least some measure of engagement in digital media and a presence in digital worlds.

And thus, I am disheartened when I read of the persistent digital divide that’s no longer only about access to equipment but also about  the time to play, create, and engage social networks.  As Cindy Long writes:

Students with round-the-clock, high-speed Internet access have more opportunity not only to be content consumers, but also content creators with a global audience—they have a chance to be “publishers, movie makers, artists, song creators, and story tellers,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The more opportunity young people have to play around online, the more their experience and comfort with technology grows. They’re becoming digital innovators who will increasingly integrate technology into their everyday lives and use it to shape the future—a future that will likely look a lot different for the millions of kids without the same level of experience.

And to many of us, the sort of learning that enables students to shape the future is at least as significant as the  conventional academic skills being drilled and tested in thousands of classrooms in which obsolete computers sit unused under a layer of dust in the corner.

I’m heartened by the work of teachers like Brian Crosby who are doing remarkable things with surplussed equipment  and an enormous investment of his own time and energy.

But it’s time to get beyond the point of thinking that more kids will gain this sort of access to digital tools if only there were more teachers wiling to dumpster dive for for equipment.

3 thoughts on “Activism, Social Class, and the Digital Divide

  1. Toni October 4, 2008 / 12:48 pm

    Since I still have one foot left in the technical world, I made inquiries as to how surplus computer equipment and notebooks (aka laptops) are handled. I found they are generally sold to surplus outlets. The lame reason given was the information left on these equipment is proprietary. I reminded my sources that are scrubbing hard disks that perhaps donating the surplus equipment to schools would be an example of the global citizenship that is generally mentioned on their corporate websites. Their comments were that they would “consider this.” Such a loss for everyone involved.

  2. janevangalen October 4, 2008 / 3:16 pm

    Hi Toni,

    Such a loss indeed. I’ve read of only a few partnerships in which businesses just send their surplussed computers to a nearby school. I’d assume if they are willing to send them to surplus outlets, there are ways to scrub them of proprietary information so that 3rd graders couldn’t access it.

    And on the other hand, I don’t want to keep accepting that schools have to settle for equipment that others discard. In these times, we should no longer still be scratching our heads about how to equip classrooms with very basic tools.


  3. Jeanne October 5, 2008 / 12:13 pm

    Hey Jane,

    We recently had a garage sale and I sold three computers for very little money. My neighbor turned my four-year-old PC laptop into something very useable with a little investigation and very small capital investment (under $20 total).

    Fortunately for him (and the other two buyers), Minneapolis Public Schools didn’t want my computers. I tried to donate them first.

    The “proprietary” excuse is just that. Corporations have legal contracts with those outlets and they could have similar contracts with schools, contracts that guarantee they’ll do a secure wipe of the hard drive and not steal software or other proprietary content.


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