“Twenty Years Later: Is the Digital Divide as Deep as Ever?”

by Morgan Stonelake

The Digital Divide, what is it? For those who are privileged, it’s hard to imagine the struggles of those caught in the gap where, “families are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads; the internet and a computer is the last thing on the list.” (Patrick, 2020)

this haunts me… as a future business owner I want to take up this cause

The biggest issue that the digital divide creates, is the overall lack of quality of life for those without access to the necessary technology needed to operate successfully in our modern, and extensively tech-reliant economy. “The internet is an essential, integral part of civic life in America in 2020. People who don’t have access to the internet at home suffer demonstrable educational and economic harms.” (Patrick, 2020)

we are a heavily tech-reliant economy, from education to employment, so those without suffer greatly

Without device accessibility, data and internet, and overall tech literacy these people largely live in poverty and worse yet, do not have the skills in order to seek better employment via internet, or even apply online. The student in the same situation is also systemically held back because of their lack of access, preventing them from receiving the same skills and training as their peers that would help them to succeed. “These people aren’t fighting for luxury like those at the top want you to believe, they are simply fighting for the right to live,” (Pietrzak, 2020)

the digital divide exists in a place of shame, making it even more difficult to solve

It wasn’t all that shocking to me to discover that the pandemic opened many peoples’ eyes to this disparity for the first time. Meanwhile, it’s a struggle that I have encountered personally many times in my life, although I have always remained very private about this because of the embarrassment and shame that comes with not being fully connected in the digital age. There have been periods of my life when I had no transportation, no phone, no internet at home, had to ride the bus, had to walk 8–12 miles a day, walk to two different schools, to pick up kids that I provided afterschool care to, and would walk to the library or McDonalds to do school work, download music, and use the internet. I eventually got a government issued phone but the software was so poor that the thing crashed within the first week of owning it. I was always in the position of asking to borrow someone else’s phone which also put me in danger. I never told my peers what I was going through because I was ashamed to not be like everyone else. “More than 21 million Americans, most of whom live in rural areas, lack access to reliable broadband internet, according to a 2019 Federal Communications Commission report.” (Patrick, 2020)

it’s hard to prioritize buying expensive devices when you’re struggling to survive

I was one of these people caught in the digital divide. I would more aptly like to call it the digital pit because it takes a lot of effort and money just to feel like you are standing on common ground with everyone else. I had to make 100 intentional choices every morning to succeed in getting to the library just to send an email to a professor that someone with a phone could send in a minute from home with WiFi. To say that it was frustrating would be the greatest understatement. I suffered academically, having to apologize to professors. I suffered mentally and emotionally because of the relentless walking and commuting I had to follow through with just to do the simplest task. So often I think it’s easy for people to forget that there are homes that still can’t afford internet because internet is available in every shop and restaurant. “The pandemic’s revelation of digital inequities shows broadband internet can no longer be treated as a luxury in our society, but rather as a public utility.” (Patrick, 2020)

academic tenacity, no one really wants to get left behind

I am reminded of the two little girls who sat outside of a Taco Bell, trying to use their WiFi to do their school work. “The dedicated little girls …didn’t want to miss out on learning due to the fact that they didn’t have internet access at home so they walked to the Taco Bell near where they were staying at to use the WIFI.” (DeFranco, 2020) Sure they eventually became internet famous and a gofundme page was set up in their honor which was able to raise $130,000 to help them. “And while this specific story does have an obviously very happy ending… the digital divide is as deep as ever.” (DeFranco, 2020)

However, I can’t help but think of all the families whose struggle is not seen, or will never go viral, or blow up on social media, or be shared by influential people in government to create awareness of the problem, like what happened for these girls. Specifically because the digital divide exists in a place of shame for many people, myself included.

If anything the pandemic did actually create more access to technology than I had experienced previously. “That also doesn’t mean that this is all just hopeless. Because this has been such an issue during the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of school districts more aware, working to help bridge the gap.” (DeFranco, 2020) It’s a comforting thought, as businesses and schools rally to get students free devices that can be used from home during the pandemic. For example, Amazon is one such company helping to close the divide. “Amazon donated 8,200 Chromebook laptops to elementary-age Seattle Public School students throughout April and early May. As of May 27, an additional 5,313 devices and 367 Wi-Fi hotspots have been distributed to SPS students, according to SPS spokesperson Tim Robinson. “ (Patrick, 2020)

a sweet thank you note from this happy student

I hope that the pandemic has truly opened peoples’ eyes to the digital divide and will inspire more companies to follow suit, as well as the Federal Government, to help finally make access to internet and devices a public service, especially in our schools helping students get the best start in life possible.

Works Cited

DeFranco, Philip. “HORRIBLE or FANTASTIC?! Charlie Hebdo Republishes Muhammad Cartoons, Digital Divide Controversy, &.” YouTube, Philip DeFranco, 1 Sept. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_uBvK-nLb0.

Higgins, Eoin. “Global Digital Divide a ‘Barrier to Wider Equality’ That Must Be Closed, Says World Wide Web Inventor Tim Berners-Lee.” Common Dreams, 12 June 2020, www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/12/global-digital-divide-barrier-wider-equality-must-be-closed-says-world-wide-web.

Kim, Youngmoo. “Getting Woke to the Digital Divide | Youngmoo Kim | TEDxPhiladelphia.” YouTube, TEDxTalks, 24 June 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=9d5R5ZjRzsc.

Lindsey, Elizabeth, director. Millions Are Left Behind in the Digital Age | Elizabeth Lindsey | TEDxFoggyBottom. TEDxTalks, 9 Sept. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcy-w_xTh20.

Patrick, Anna. “Disconnected in Isolation: How the Coronavirus Pandemic Shed Light on the Digital Divide.” Arizona Daily Sun, The Seattle Times, 14 June 2020, azdailysun.com/business/national-and-international/disconnected-in-isolation-how-the-coronavirus-pandemic-shed-light-on-the-digital-divide/article_10298db5–2961–5995-bb34–3b3867f777b6.html.

Pietrzak, Lukas. “United We Stand, Disconnected We Fall: the Digital Divide Stories | Lukas Pietrzak | TEDxGeorgetown.” YouTube, TEDxTalks, 9 Jan. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF9kIn1LQlM.

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ISFP just a gentle soul (she/her, Pisces ♓︎, gen z) ✽ ✾ ✿ ❀ ❁ Performing Arts Major at WOU Emphasis in (Theatre, Voice, and Dance)

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Morgan Stonelake

Morgan Stonelake

ISFP just a gentle soul (she/her, Pisces ♓︎, gen z) ✽ ✾ ✿ ❀ ❁ Performing Arts Major at WOU Emphasis in (Theatre, Voice, and Dance)

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