Divide and Conquer? Not So Much
// Posted by Aisling on 10/15/2014 (10:46 AM)
This past weekend, I headed down to Charleston, SC with a group of friends for fall break. Even though it was a “break” from school, we all seemed to still have homework to do. One of my friends, Sara, had a 2000 word paper due on the Saturday, and was really trying to get it finished before we arrived in Charleston. So, as we were driving, she sat in the middle seat on her computer, typing out the essay. We hit a lot of traffic, and her computer ended up dying about 2 hours before we reached Charleston. When her computer shut off, she sat for a few minutes, and then pulled out her iPhone. Within seconds of unlocking her phone, she had opened up her essay on her iPhone screen, and had begun working again. At first, her thumbs were flying over the tiny screen, and she seemed to be very productive. However, after about 10 minutes of intense screen-switching, scrolling, zooming, and typing, she put the phone down and simply said, “I can’t.”
For experience #3, Brendan, Emily, and I focused our work on the digital divide. The term “‘digital divide’ is often used to discuss the connectivity gap among distinct regions and demographics.” (Goodman) We thought it would be interesting to explore this gap, and create a gap of our own within the classroom. To achieve this, we split the class into two groups, and restricted one group from the use of any electronics, and the other to the use of a smartphone. With their restrictions in place, we then told the groups to research the idea of copyright inequality, and to turn in a paragraph response and a list of sources used.
I was assigned to group B, otherwise known as group “Access Denied.” We were not allowed to use anything that connected to the Internet to conduct our research, and could not even bring our phones along with us for the purposes of time keeping.
The question we were researching had to do with forming a position on whether or not copyright laws produce or enhance inequality. Although the question itself was not difficult, we had no idea where to find the physical books on copyright laws, so we went to speak to a librarian on the first floor of the Boatwright Library. Even though she was very helpful in looking up books for us, at first she did not understand why we couldn’t do it ourselves. When Damian approached her, she suggested he look up his topic in the library’s system. However, the library’s system is online, and we weren’t allowed to access it ourselves. When we explained the experience and why we weren’t able to look it up, she willingly did it for us, and gave us a list of several books to find.
The fact that the library’s system exists online was extremely interesting to me, as I considered what it would be like to be without constant access to an Internet connection. Although our librarian was willing and helpful, we might not have been so lucky. Suppose you were a high school student without Internet or a smart phone, and had to do all of your research projects at your town’s public library. You can only book two-hour timeslots on the computer each day, and you need this precious time to actually write your research papers. You can’t afford to use your minutes looking up books. So, each time you needed to find a book or a journal, you would have to do what we did, and ask a librarian to do something that the library expects you to be able to take care of yourself. The first two times the librarian might be helpful and even kind, but if you are coming in every week or two with a different project, it may not continue to be the case. Would you become notorious for not being able to look up your own books? Would the librarians eventually refuse to help you? Would you be forced to cut into your 2 hours and look up the books yourself, possibly causing you to have to then rush to finish your paper? Questions like these were swimming through my head as I tried to transpose our current library experience into one occurring at a public library.
Although the librarian in the Boatwright Memorial Library was very helpful, she delivered the unwelcome news that the books we needed were in the Law Library. Luckily, Elizabeth knew how to get there, because I certainly didn’t.
Once we arrived in the Law Library, we began looking for the books. We went straight to where we thought the books would be, and realized we had no idea where we were or where we should be looking. Eventually, Elizabeth went and spoke to a Law Librarian who pointed us in the right direction. However, we had all sort of split up to look for the books, and we ended up losing Brendan. Because we didn’t have our cellphones, we had no way to contact him, and had no idea where he was or what he was doing. As we were very much in a time crunch, we didn’t stop to look for him, and proceeded to find the books.
Damian, Elizabeth, and I skimmed through a book each, and quickly jotted down some thoughts. We had no idea what time it was (again, no cellphone to quickly check), but we had a feeling we were very crunched for time. The stress was real in this situation, and we even considered running back to Boatwright. Ultimately, we used the walk back to gather some thoughts, and to try and write up a paragraph. Thinking and writing while walking is extremely difficult, and it felt like our thoughts were extremely jumbled and not going in the direction we wanted them to. Without anything substantial on our page, we made it back to Boatwright, and found Brendan at the front of the library, sitting at a computer. We had run out of time, and needed to quickly come up with something to hand in. Our thoughts were flying everywhere and it was hard for us to come up with anything concrete. On top of not having our thoughts together, we also didn’t have our sources together. Although Elizabeth remembered her book, in my rush to get back in time I completely forgot to write down the name of the book we cited in our paragraph! It wasn’t the end of the world because it was part of the experience, but I can’t even imagine how stressful that would’ve been if I was a highschool student rushing between libraries in a time crunch. I probably would’ve had a mental breakdown.
Going through the research process without connectivity was something I found interestingly difficult and eye opening. I have always taken my ability to get online for granted, and have never thought of what it would be like if this ability was taken away from me. Watching my friend put her smartphone down in defeat after she tried to write her paper on it seriously made me reconsider what I do take for granted. Similarly to how Sara couldn’t work on her iPhone, Goodman’s article states that (like Sara), “many students have found it impossible to perform the same quality of work on a smartphone that they might be able to on a personal computer.” But what if Sara didn’t have a choice? What if she only had her smartphone? Sara is intelligent, and does well in school, but how would this change if she only had a smartphone? Would her potential and intelligence be lost somewhere between the difference of a touch screen keyboard and an actual computer?
In her article, Goodman refers to a Whitehouse study, which showed that only 71% of Americans have broadband at home. In a country of over 316 million people, that leaves close to 90 million Americans without a broadband connection in their homes. 90 million is a lot of people, but coming from an island with a population of 65,000 it is hard to conceptualize what 90 million actually means. To help my understanding of how immense the divide is, I tried to relate America’s 90 million to my 90 million. I decided that it would take over 1,300 Bermudas to reach the number of Americans without Internet access in their homes. That’s over 1000 countries (albeit tiny ones) put together. Connectivity is something so taken for granted, and yet there are over 1300 Bermudas without it.
The digital divide creates a gap, but after this experience I also feel like it creates an abyss. A place of lost potential and performance. Because I have never personally experienced the digital divide in my lifetime, it was hard to actually imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of it. However, after going through the experience without any access, I truly feel like this experience opened my eyes to the complex issues and difficulties surrounding the divide.