The social components with serve to drive the digital divide.
Jesse Foster, University of Nebraska Lincoln, United States
Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, in Nashville, Tennessee, USA ISBN 978-1-880094-44-0 Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Chesapeake, VA
On June 11, George C. Wallace fulfilled his campaign promise to "stand in the schoolhouse door" to prevent the integration of the University of Alabama, symbolically blocking the entrance to the university's registration building with his body, his arms outspread. President Kennedy intervened, giving the Alabama National Guard federal status and ordering protection of the two African American students through their registration process and class attendance. The most remarkable and resilient component of this entire episode in Alabama's history, however, was not the stance that Governor Wallace took. It was not the acts of the President, the National Guard, or even those two brave African American students. The most resilient component of this entire episode was the promise itself: "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Governor Wallace quite possibly had no idea how far his words would resound. He did not know that in the year 2001, his promise would still be standing strong. In fact, according to statements he made in the latter years of his life, he no longer wanted his promise to stand. Yet, despite his racial policy conversion, despite court rulings and legal findings, despite marches, legislative manipulations, and militant forces, we still live in a world of segregation. And, no, this researcher is not speaking of the blatant segregation that infected American society during the '60s. Today's segregation is attired in bytes, syntax, monitors, and central processing units. We no longer call it segregation. We often even fail to recognize it as such. However, whether or not it is intended to do so, the digital divide of today serves to bring about the same results as yesterday's systematic and systemic segregation. The "digital divide" serves, today, to do to sections of our society what segregation did in the '60s and before. Segregation kept intelligent students away from the information they desired. In today's society, so does the digital divide. Segregation made it hard for its victims to have successful businesses and lives, just like the digital divide. Segregation, though not always acknowledged, struck hardest in the poor rural areas of the south. Today, over 20 years later, the digital divide has done the same thing. It is a classic case of old poison, wrapped in a new box. Nevertheless, despite its trappings, the digital divide still manages to marginalize, or segregate if you will, certain sections of our society. In addition, like its predecessor, the digital divide is disproportionately affecting African Americans. As the Department of Commerce has found in its Emerging Digital Economy reports, the dramatic growth of electronic commerce and the development of information technology (IT) industries are changing the way Americans work, communicate, purchase goods, and obtain information. Jobs in the new economy now increasingly require technical skills and familiarity with new technologies. Additionally, obtaining services and information increasingly requires access to the Internet. The pure and simple fact is that today's society is a montage of technological gadgets, gizmos, and gigabyte driven devices. People no longer compose letters, place them in blue boxes, and wait weeks for a response. Instead, people peck out e-mail messages, upload the address from their address books, hit the send button, and wait patiently for the other party to reply; sometimes it takes hours to get a response. There is no mistaking it, high technology plays an important part in the daily lives of our generalized population. Furthermore, with the exception of a marginalized few, today's society is running into the technological age at warp speed. The problem, however, is with those marginalized few; who are not only in the minority, but are also predominately racial minorities. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) (1999) Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide report, the number of Americans accessing the Internet has grown rapidly in the last 14 years; yet, in the midst of this general expansion, the "digital divide" between minorities in general, and African Americans in particular, has continued to widen. Larry Irving, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Administrator, asserted that the "digital divide"--the divide between those with access to new technologies and those without--is now one of America's leading economic and civil rights issues. Overall, the number of Americans connected to the nation's information infrastructure is soaring. Nevertheless, the Falling Through the Net (NTIA, 1999)report stated that a digital divide still exists, and, in many cases, is actually widening over time. Purpose of the Study The digital divide is quickly marginalizing an entire segment of the American population. If the solution to this lack of integration of the technology by African Americans in general is not surmised, the repercussions may be catastrophic. In a time when African American students are just starting to make some progress in their struggle to compete in the classroom and the workforce, this digital divide could serve to nullify present progress, and even place African American students at a greater disadvantage. The purpose of this study was to examine the possibility that there are some major social (internal) components behind African American students' reluctance to use technology. This study examined the possible explanations for African American students' generalized failure to integrate computer technology into their daily lives. The secondary purpose for conducting this study was to determine the extent to which self-efficacy, in general, and computer self-efficacy, in particular, interact with race and gender. The information was used to make theoretical assumptions concerning usage of technology and task avoidance. The students studied were limited to those attending The University of Alabama, Stillman College, and a small representative body of high schools in the western section of the State of Alabama. Although research in the area of self-efficacy has been substantial over the past 30 years, and the process of labeling and evaluating the digital divide has been going on for some 14 years, little research has been done in an attempt to localize the cause of the digital divide. Furthermore, the causes that have been offered, have all been external in nature. There appears to be a "field of dreams" mentality surrounding technology. Politicians, would be Samaritans, and researchers alike have suggested that all we need to do to bridge the digital divide, is put more computers in the hands of those on the "other" side. There is an implicit assumption that if we give "them" the computers, they will love and use them. No one has sufficiently examined the possibility that there are some internal forces acting as inhibitors to the successful integration of technology into the lives of African Americans in general. The study revolves around one basic questions: Are there internal forces causing members of society not to be motivated to use the technology, or to indeed be motivated to actively avoid using the technology? If they are not motivated to integrate the technology, then why are they not motivated? This study represented the first step toward addressing the internal and social factors that influence the integration of technology by African American students. Finding the source of the digital divide is the first and most important step toward narrowing the divide. This is especially important within the education environment where, too often, many of today's African American population are constantly struggling to keep up. The digital divide is more than just an abstract idea. It is more than a catch phrase created by politicians and researchers. The digital divide is a serious threat to the economic base, intellectual base, and social fabric of our country and all countries affected by it. Ever since the civil revolution of the late '60s, we have been struggling to unite our country; this divide is poised to undo a great deal of the progress. This research is an attempt to initiate a new way of approaching the digital divide. For too long, we have invested monies and technical resources into the problem solving equation. After 14 years of these measures, the divide continues to widen. It is time to look at the possibility that there might be social forces driving the divide. And these forces, although appearing on the surface to be race- and gender-based, are really internalized responses to like treatment.
Foster, J. (2002). The social components with serve to drive the digital divide. In D. Willis, J. Price & N. Davis (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2002--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 2017-2021). Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).