DIGITAL AMERICA

// Posted by on 10/20/2014 (1:26 PM)

Over Fall Break I was in the Dominican Republic with my living and learning class. The Dominican Republic is a small island nation with heavily Christian and conservative population, 2/3 of which lives on less that $2 a day. Driving through the streets and entering some of the peoples’ homes with our class, even in the major cities there were almost no web accessible devices, let alone any connections to the digital world. The electricity infrastructure that would be needed to even begin to power these devices was extremely poor as well, as there is at least one major power outage each day. While my situation paled in comparison, I got a small taste of this divide while I was in the Dominican Republic. I was unable to use any mobile cellular data on my phone during the trip as international usage would cost exorbitant amounts. The lack of demand for internet connection in the DR resulted in very small wifi frequency and I found myself disconnected for the majority of the trip. As I was trying to look for certain areas to go in Santo Domingo, or even find directions or my location, what was normally so easy became a difficult task. When I wanted to print copies of the pamphlet that I had made for my team’s presentation, I was unable to since I could not connect to the printer that had taken me hours to find. Clearly the digital divide was prevalent.

I also saw the geographical and demographic aspect aspect of the divide mentioned by Jessica Goodman in the different places within the country. As I visited the nicer areas of the capital city Santo Domingo such as the office of the microfinance company who was hosting us there, not only were the houses and buildings nicer, there were computers and Wi-fi access relatively available, and average connection speeds. When we visited a suburban school and a rural sugar cane plantation, there was not a sign of any sort of connection to the digital world, and electricity was extremely patchy if existent at all. These areas were shockingly within no more than 15 miles from the nicer connected area of the city, yet the difference was astonishing. I found myself thinking about the argument of digital access and literacy as a fundamental human right, and wondering how I could even consider it. When so many people lack the basic water, healthcare, education, and shelter so survive and maintain a decent quality of life, digital access does not even come into the equation.

 

The way the experience team attempted to recreate then digital divide on our own campus was really quite interesting. Since a lot of the focus of what we read about the digital divide was in regard to education I think, they made the experience a race between two teams to complete research and a short essay, with one side having access to phones and computers for easier research and transcribing, while the other having to do research solely with books and having no access to the internet. This was a very clever way to try and recreate the situation of students in lower class situations with no access to the resources that we all have. Since many of the students do not have data plans or smartphones, the book research team was forced to leave their phones in the library room as they did their manual work.

 

 

 

I was on the team that was able to use their smartphones for research and typing prior to being able to make a final transcription on one of the available computers in the library. Even as we were able to use our phones for research and typing, there were still certainly some difficulties we faced with the limitations that we were given. Using our phones it was still difficult to find scholarly articles for research and typing on smartphones was slow and tedious with such a small screen and keyboard. I was truly able to see through this as well as viewing the difficulties of the other group what Jessica Goodman observed at schools in poverty-stricken Newark. The other group was forced to run around campus searching for appropriate research materials under limited time and it clearly put them at a huge disadvantage. Both teams were luckily able to get one of the available computers with a wait, but the group “Access Denied” needed an extra 25 minutes in order to complete the assignment, along with a lot more running and difficulty, as evidenced by the sweat and shortness of breath of the other group as they ran into the room with their manually researched assignment: 


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