Are Cellphones a Good Solution for the Digital Divide?

// Posted by on 03/01/2014 (5:06 PM)

As college students we use technology in almost every aspect of our studying throughout the day. We type our papers on our laptops, read our textbooks on our ipads, and are in constant communication with our professors via email on our smart phones. It seems unimaginable to think of coming to college and not having the basic knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word or even how to send an email. However in the article “The Digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind” it highlights a significant portion of our population that is still growing up illiterate on the computer. Reflecting back on my experiences not only enrolling in college but also registering in the beginning, not having access to technology and in particular computers would have put me at a significant disadvantage.

The article focuses on whether or not it was a human or civil right for students to have access to technology that is crucial in this day and age. Before learning more about this subject and having a discussion in class I would have never considered providing students with computers or Internet access a human right. However the more and more I think about it, the more I see it disadvantaging the students. It’s similar to not teaching lower income student’s math and then throwing them into a subject in college where math is the lining for all course material. While learning how to send an email is seemingly easier to learn than 12 years of algebra it still creates a huge gap between students. I have yet to encounter someone at the University of Richmond who is not literate on the computer. Is this because those underprivileged students couldn’t attend Richmond because of the lack of access of technology to apply or is it next to impossible to excel at school without the use of a computer.


One of the ways that some people were attempting to combat the lack of access to computers and Internet connection was with the introduction of smart phones. In a New York Times article “Industry Makes Pitch That Smartphones Belong in Classroom” it talks about an experiment that gave smartphones to students without computer access and they saw a significant increase in the quality of the students performance. It is important to note though that the study was funding by Qualcomm a maker of cell phone chips for smartphones and who wants to break into to education market. The study also discussed how the students were heavily monitored on their use of smartphones and the scope with which they were allowed to use their phones. Cell phones have always been seen as a huge distraction and I feel this isn’t going to change anytime soon. The New York Times article talked about how 10 states have school wide bans of cell phones for this very reason I feel like cell phones would be significantly harder to monitor without access to the phones activity directly. I also feel it may be frustrating sometimes to do a large amount of schoolwork on my phone. I couldn’t imagine typing out a long research paper on such a small screen and a small keyboard.


Whether cell phones are the right answer to weakening the digital divide or making sure every high school student is literate in computers before heading off to college something does need to change in the public education system in regards to access to technology. If we allow this divide to keep growing bigger it is only going to strengthen the income gap between classes because it is impossible to advance in the world today without a basic level of computer knowledge. Whether or not it is a human right or a civil right is still unclear and might remain unclear for years to come but the right to learn should be available to everyone no matter what.


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Cassaundra said...

This week’s readings on the Digital Divide and whether internet access is a human or civil right have captured my interest and caused me to reflect on the role the internet has played in my life as well. The Mashable article entitled “The Digital Divide is Still Leaving Americans Behind” opened my eyes to the countless opportunities that would not be possible without the internet. For example, the article cites the importance of the internet in making the Common Application for college easier to fill out, and the fact that some companies only review job applications that are submitted online. The lack of Wi-Fi even aversely affects the schooling of children of poverty as teachers will either give them double the time to complete an assignment or not give the assignment at all because they know their students cannot readily access a computer or Wi-Fi. Given the suggested necessity of Wi-Fi, it is appalling that “only 71% of Americans actually subscribe to broadband at home.” Many have tried to use smart phones as a substitute for laptops so they can still access the internet. However, this reliance on smart phones creates computer illiteracy as some people never learn how to type or save a Word document, which is another essential skill both in one’s schooling and career. Reading this article made it apparent to me that some of my biggest achievements thus far would have been extremely more difficult, if not impossible, without Wi-Fi. It certainly would have made college applications a much more tedious process, and I probably would not have gotten my internship this past summer (and resulting job offer) as the application was completely online-based. These realizations had me thinking that the internet should be a basic right until I read the New York Times article, “Internet Access Is Not a Human Right.” Cerf argues that the internet is a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself making it not qualify as a human right. I agree with this point, but I would argue that it could be characterized as a civil right. We pride ourselves on the notion of “the American Dream”- that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Without access to Wi-Fi, that is not entirely the case as you are immediately closed off from some job opportunities and put at a disadvantage in other respects. The internet is still a means to the end of “the American Dream,” but without it, “the American Dream” becomes impossible for many.

// 03/03/2014 at 12:40 am

Piper said...

I think that the debate about if Internet access should be a civil right is interesting, as it is definitely multifaceted and complex. From the readings in class, and in Molly’s post, computers and Internet access seem to be essential in the job and college application process. Because of the importance of these matters, some people believe that Internet should be a civil right. But, can one really argue that Internet access is more of an essential civil right than a cell phone or a Netflix account, per say? The article “Should the Federal Government Consider Internet Access a ‘Civil Right’?’ At Least One Faith Group Says ‘Yes,’ brings up this point. One interesting point that stemmed from the article is the fact that America has dropped from 4th in the world in Broadband all the way down to 22nd in the world. Scientific American’s article titled “Why Broadband Service in the U.S. Is So Awful,” explained that the FCC might be to blame: “In 2002, the FCC reclassified broadband Internet service as an ‘information service’ rather than a ‘telecommunications service.’” In this way, competition is restrained because consumers only have 2 choices—the cable company and the phone company. In other countries, multiple options are available which stimulates competition and therefore, drives down prices so that more people can have access. Could the solution to the Digital Divide be to just change the classification of broadband Internet? This seems to be too easy…


// 03/03/2014 at 6:27 pm

Mia said...

Your argument about the shift from a high school environment without computer literacy to a college environment where most everything is centered on technology and the communication it provides reminded me of yet another disadvantage of the digital divide. I remember when applying to colleges, to save time and money we could use Common App to apply to multiple schools at once, electronically. It made the application process significantly easier and provided immediate answers to questions that might arise during the application process. I can’t even imagine having to apply to college without access to Common App. But without a laptop or an internet connection, this is yet another way the digital divide can develop.

If a student is not computer literate and does not have the means to apply to colleges with Common App, it could discourage them from applying at all. Without access, students are then forced to apply to each school individually through paper applications, which usually end up becoming a bigger expense than applying online would be. And with the socioeconomic gap that is usually tied to the digital divide this expense is yet another obstacle for applicants. If students are able to overcome applying in this way, they are then faced with the delay in communication if they have any further questions. While most colleges will be able to help answer any questions in person or over the phone, it is nowhere near as efficient as being able to find the answers online. The digital divide places an immense amount of tension on the entire application process.

It makes me wonder when exactly the digital divide starts taking a toll on the potential development of students. We know that in the real professional world of business it is virtually impossible to succeed without computer literacy and digital access. But if the digital divide is affecting a person’s development as early as straight out of high school, how else is it disadvantaging even younger students? And the digital divide can have such an effect on such young people, why has there not been more action taken to equalize their futures?

// 03/03/2014 at 10:38 pm