A House Divided

Posted on November 21, 2010


My home provides a living, breathing example of the digital divide.

I live in a duplex – split between the upper and the lower unit – in Greenwood. My other half and I live in the upper unit. We are both under 30, have college degrees, and each bring in an income. In the other unit is a family of three; mother, father and a 9-year-old boy. I don’t believe either of the adults went to college, they don’t own a car and the husband supports their family with his sales position at a hardware store.

When we moved in this summer, we met with our new neighbors to discuss what we could share and how we would separate bills. We already had plans to get broadband in the home and offered to share a wireless internet connection with them. Each unit only having to pay $20 a month, we thought it was a screaming deal. But to our surprise, they turned the offer down. Even though they are an active gaming family, avid television watchers and their son is getting close to when homework will require a computer and internet, they deemed it a luxury and unnecessary.

It was a shock to me. How do they live without the internet? In Seattle?! In 2010?!

I wondered if their boy was behind his classmates at all in internet and computer literacy… do schools provide enough exposure? I had been using a PC since I was six or seven years-old, mastering Mario Teaches Typing and Minesweeper.


By the age of nine, I was playing with Paint, messing around with a movie clip audio database, and spending time in my elementary school’s primitive computer lab. In middle school, I moved onto to Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, Oregon Trail, research on Encarta and my first Juno email account. I remember spending summer afternoon’s with my best friend pretending to be much older than we were in chat rooms.

I come from a privileged position on many fronts, including the digital divide. But at this point in time, the ability to effectively use the internet and have regular access to it is becoming close to a fundamental human right – at least in some countries.

Since I was in elementary and middle school, technology has advanced quickly and significantly. While public schools don’t have endless sources of funding, many are equipped with ample computer access, fairly up-to-date machines, and instructors to guide students. But without a computer in the home are students like my neighbor becoming literate digital citizens? Will he be able to easily navigate the internet and decipher false claims?

Regardless of my own personal concerns, there wasn’t much to be done if they did not have the resources to get a computer and pay an extra monthly bill.

Yet, to my surprise, 3 months in, our neighbors came knocking. They had bought a used laptop with a built-in wireless card and were ready to take on the $20 internet access fee. We were more than happy to share our network key, and I did a little happy dance for our young neighbor and his new found bridge to cross the digital divide.

But were my concerns for at-home access even valid? Does a public education provide the next generation the tools they need to learn and compete in our increasingly hyper-digital world? Is it enough to have access at school and public libraries?

Posted in: COM 597