While are are talking about the digital divide, here is a column by Marc Cooper in the LA Weekly about the role of the internet in the electoral debates.

You Boob

The presidential debates need more people and fewer videos

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 - 1:00 pm
FIRST, MY DISCLAIMERS. I have a home network of six computers, as well as broadband wireless cards in both of my laptops. My first e-mail account dates back to 1984. I got onto the Web before anyone I know and would feel nude walking out of the house without my world-edition Blackberry. That said, this week's CNN/YouTube Democratic debate was a fraud. Billed as first-of-its-kind, it was the worst-of-its-kind.

Someone tell me, please, what melting snowmen, fifth-class home-grown comics, singing taxpayers, questioners filming themselves in their bathrooms and several jag-offs playing their guitars on camera have to do with enriching the political process. Is making the American presidential race even more of a circus than already it is what America really needed? Does being "Internet savvy" to use the clueless media's favorite generational descriptor mean pointing a lens at yourself while acting like a jackass? And just when the fate of the most powerful country on Earth is at stake?

Nor was there anything "interactive" in sifting 39 final video questions from among the total 2,800 submissions Indeed, this was just one more gussied-up version of tightly managed unilateral and highly scripted business-as-usual politics. In the end, the questions were posed, or better said, served up to the candidate, who was then free to say anything he or she pleased with absolutely no interaction, no response, no follow-up and therefore no challenge from the questioner. Strip away the digital nonsense and the candidates merely had to prepare to handle about a dozen easily anticipated areas of questioning and then stick to their talking points.

When you think about it, the technology to conduct this sort of pseudo-debate already existed back when Lincoln and Douglas faced off nearly 150 years ago. All you had to do was solicit the citizenry to send their questions in by pony express, and 39 could have been chosen by whoever it was who moderated those grand debates. Or, if you wanted something more instantaneous, you would have waited until the era of FDR, when most American families had phones and could have dialed their questions in the same night of the debate.

What we really saw was a perversion of Web technology. The Net really does provide a potentially formidable challenge to both establishment politics and mainstream media but not when cheaply manipulated the way CNN engineered this farce. Authentic Web-driven power surfaces most dramatically when online communities exercise collective accountability over institutions and individuals that were once invulnerable to instantaneous public reaction and feedback. Just ask George Allen about Macaca or Dan Rather about a certain 60 Minutes segment and they'll tell you about the real power of the Net. Or ask Howard Dean how he once went from zero to $40 million thanks to a legion of keyboarders.

There are other immediate ways, if there were a will, to make this season's debates truly interactive. But to get there we would need a lot more helicopters and a lot fewer webcams. How about carting the candidates from one local auditorium to another, from Nevada to New Hampshire, and confronting them with live audiences, where questioners would be free to not only ask whatever occurs to them but would actually be allowed a follow-up? Imagine the cold fear that would freeze the hearts of each and every campaign staffer under those ground rules.

The second way to ratchet up the interactivity of these debates would be, well, to make them debates. This week's CNN version was the fifth or sixth of the season I have watched, three of them in person as a reporter. And they have all been equally inconsequential, if not downright trivial, as the Democratic candidates have simply refused to take on each other. So short of submerging this crew into a series of open-ended town halls to which they would never (ever, ever) consent, the next best thing would be to force them into a format where the only folks on camera are the candidates themselves verbally duking it out. Just as Lincoln and Douglas did, sometimes for six or seven hours at a time before truly rapt audiences. I'll take that any day of the week over some goateed Web-savvy dope mumbling a "wassup?" into his webcam.

I wish I could say that this was the first and last of YouTube debates, but CNN has scheduled the Republican version of the same for mid-September. One can only imagine the auto-videoing wing nuts that will smoke out. To paraphrase the current secretary of Homeland Security, my gut tells me that even CNN will figure out how pointless and ultimately ridiculous the YouTube debates are. They seem destined to quite literally go down the tubes the same way that Smell-o-vision did 50 years ago and for the same reason. They stink.

On 7/25/07, Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
It's no-no, taboo, and politically incorrect among many leftists to talk about a culture of poverty, but it shouldn't be. Economic discrimination and racism are of course the root cause, but the vicious cycle that poverty creates is very real and so I have to agree with Eric here. This is not blaming the poor nor elitism, it is trying to understand the difference between a vulgar Marxism and a nuanced understanding of capitalist society, not to mention benefitting from the important work of progressive sociologists and social psychologists.


On 7/25/07, Claudia Hemphill Pine < [log in to unmask]> wrote:
Umm... maybe we could all back off from "prescriptive" values and take a more descriptive look here.

YES. Both in the micro-universe of this story, and the wider personal experience of some of us, low-income households appear to be more likely to have TV's with cable than computers with internet.

Never mind that access being high-speed. I live in a grad student/old people's "ghetto" in my small university town and I only have dial-up. Why? It's not the cost to me, but the unwilllingness of either my local phone provider or rental property owner to provide. Certainly, my city isn't interested. 

Not that cost isn't a consideration: I don't have cable or a big TV, partly because it's an expense I'm unwilling to pay. But my social and informational needs are amply satisfied by internet communities, list-servs and emails; by the many local RL friends who I tend to see on campus, or downtown, at the gallery, the bookshop or the Saturday market; by occasional trips out of town to see family; by newspapers (online) and journals (delivered). I can watch films on my laptop. If I want to see a favorably-reviewed TV show or an entire season, my family can often share it on TiVO or DVDs when I visit.

Ahhh.... that's why I can live without TV. It isn't my source of news or shopping information.  It isn't the common conversational currency with friends or colleagues. It isn't my escape from the humdrum of home with kids during the day, or when hiding inside from heat, a city's noise or insecurity.  Or the "only thing there is," as for so many older people who for health or safety reasons, stay at home.

So, I can turn my nose up at cable TV. But for others, it's a key connection to news and neighborhood, as well as recreation. I'd no more ask them to trade it in for a computer & the internet - with the associated learning curve, hardware needs, shorter uselife, and mainly single-user setup - than I would ask my Mom to give up watching Wimbledon and Mystery to listen to NPR and hang out on the internet like me.  Internet doesn't replace cable TV for her, just augments it. But it added costs and complications as well.

Mom's house is actually wireless now. But she was driven to the internet more than she was enticed. She had to get email to stay in touch with her peripatetic children (who don't write snail mail letters) and eastern European friends (whose letters take months).  She can use it to shop beyond her smallish city.  To really sweeten the pot, she gets unlimited free in-home software and hardware support from 2 daughters and a son-in-law with very high computer skills.

I don't think it's as easy for someone like those in this article to dump cable TV and shift over to internet. They would lose as much as, or more than, they gain.


On 7/24/07, Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
You're digging yourself in deeper, Eric. Why don't all those poor
people stop eating at MacDonald's and start eating healthy organic
vegetables? And if they just studied harder instead of wasting their
money on "mindless entertainment" I bet they could get into Harvard

This isn't the Science for Elitists list.


At 8:58 PM -0400 7/24/07, Eric Entemann wrote:
>The article in question starts with this erroneous comment:
>"I am low-income and computers are not low-income," says Marcella
>Morris, sitting on the front step of her apartment building on a
>sweltering day last week.
>A $50 used computer and under $20 per month gets one on the internet
>with broadband quite adequately, and a dialup connection can be had
>for under $40 per year.
>My contention is simply that cost is not the cause of the so-called
>"digital divide".  And that most low-income people in this country
>spend far more than that on mindless entertainment, as do most
>people of any income level.  Let's get real here.
>----Original Message Follows----
>From: Phil Gasper < [log in to unmask]>
>Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List
>< [log in to unmask]>
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: Re: Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide
>Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 16:26:35 -0500
>I am uncomfortable with Eric's comment, which seems to be blaming
>the poor for their lack of computer access.
>I also think that on a list about science it ought to be possible to
>do better than make claims that begin "I bet". Why not do a little
>research first?
>At 1:31 PM -0400 7/24/07, Eric Entemann wrote:
>>I'll bet a lot of lower-income people have big TVs and cable, but
>>no computer or broadband.  A computer that is adequate for
>>broadband net access can bought new for little and used for almost
>>nothing. The primary computer I use is an old Pentium 3 that has a
>>value of maybe $50.  And if need be, cable TV could be sacrificed
>>for cable broadband.  So no doubt choice is a big factor here.
>>But, of course, much more needs to be done toward the provision of
>>technology education and low-cost broadband.  And more public
>>access to computers on the internet as alternatives to libraries
>>and schools and Starbucks.  For example, when I visited Tucson
>>three yy ago, I was pleased to find the Univ. of AZ computer center
>>to be open long hours and to have free public access with no time
>>limit. Every computer even had a CD burner available for downloads.
>>----Original Message Follows----
>>From: Sam Anderson < [log in to unmask]>
>>Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List
>>< [log in to unmask] >
>>To: [log in to unmask]
>>Subject: Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide
>>Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 08:38:17 -0400
>>Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide
>>By Jose Antonio Vargas
>>Washington Post Staff Writer
>>Monday, July 23, 2007; C01
>>CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Less than a mile and a half from the Citadel,
>>the  site of the Democratic presidential debate tonight, sits
>>Cooper River  Courts, a public housing project. Forget the Web.
>>Never mind YouTube,  the debate's co-sponsor. Here, owning a
>>computer and getting on the  Internet (through DSL or cable or
>>Wi-Fi) is a luxury.
>>"I am low-income and computers are not low-income," says Marcella
>>Morris, sitting on the front step of her apartment building on a
>>sweltering day last week.
>>The unemployed 45-year-old adds: "I know how to use a computer. I
>>just can't afford one right now."
>>There exists "two Americas," as John Edwards, South Carolina's own
>>son, likes to say: an America for the rich and an America for the
>>poor. But what Edwards and the rest of the presidential field have
>>yet to adequately address are the two Americas online: one that's
>>connected to high-speed Internet -- socializing, paying bills,
>>uploading debate questions to presidential candidates on YouTube --
>>and one that's not. This is the digital divide, now more than a
>>decade old, a rarely discussed schism in which the unconnected are
>>second-class citizens. In some parts of this so-called Internet
>>ghetto, the screech of a telephone modem dialing up to get online
>>is not uncommon. And with dial-up, YouTube is impossible to use.
>>Between 40 to 45 percent of Charlestonians, city officials here
>>estimate, subscribe to high-speed Internet. That figure is nearly
>>in line with the national average, according to the nonpartisan
>>group Free Press. And though a study released last month by the Pew
>>Internet & American Life Project found that broadband use among
>>African American adults increased from 14 percent in 2005 to 40
>>percent this year, blacks continue to lag behind whites and
>>English- speaking Latinos. In fact, a great number of American
>>households , especially in rural areas and poorer parts of cities
>>such as Charleston, are without broadband.
>>And in a presidential election that's being fought as much online
>>as off it -- all campaigns employ Web strategies -- some say the
>>candidates have generally ignored the issue.
>>"I would argue that the digital divide is worse than it was 10
>>years ago. Back then everyone -- schools, businesses -- was trying
>>to get online. These days every single Fortune 500 company has its
>>employees, its customers and its suppliers connected 24 hours a
>>day, seven days a week. In the meantime, while our students have
>>online access at school, many of them don't have it at home," says
>>Andrew Rasiej, a member of a panel studying universal Internet
>>access in New  York, and co-founder of TechPresident, a nonpartisan
>>blog that tracks  the online campaign.
>>"Our presidential candidates may all have BlackBerrys, but they
>>have no vision when it comes to bringing all our citizens to the
>>21st century. If you go to look at the presidential candidate Web
>>sites, the word 'Internet' practically doesn't exist. Breaking the
>>digital divide has not been recognized as a critical issue," Rasiej
>>Two months ago, TechPresident challenged the candidates to adopt
>>specific policies to get everyone online. "Declare the Internet a
>>public good in the same way we think of water, electricity,
>>highways," reads a policy statement. "Commit to providing
>>affordable high-speed wireless Internet access nationwide," reads
>>another. So far most of the candidates have not adopted any of it,
>>Rasiej says.
>>"At one level, the YouTube debate shows that the Web has really
>>become a centerpiece of American political culture," adds Lee
>>Rainie,  director of Pew Internet. "At another level, it also shows
>>that the  debate is not for everybody. It's certainly not available
>>to all  Americans."
>>That is especially true at Cooper River Courts, where Tiara Reid,
>>14,  in her jeans shorts and pink striped top, runs up and down the
>>complex asking friends if anyone wants to go the library. Finally
>>her  mom, Jossie, who works at a deli, drives her and a neighbor's
>>daughter. With school out and without Internet access at home, the
>>library is the only place where she can go on the Web -- for a
>>maximum of two hours a day. Says Tiara: "It's 10 minutes to get to
>>the library if someone drives you. It's 15 minutes if you take the
>>30  bus. It's about 30 minutes if you walk." On the library's
>>second floor, she folds herself up on a chair and updates her
>>MySpace profile, sends e-mails on her Yahoo! account and, if
>>there's time, surfs Disney.com .
>>Across from the Reids' apartment stands LaToya Ferguson, holding
>>her grandson Marquis. She's one of the few residents here to have
>>Internet access at home. It's a sense of pride for her. "You're
>>falling behind if you're not online, now that's the truth," says
>>Ferguson, a nail technician in her 30s.
>>Nearby Marcella Morris runs after her son Donny, who's nearly 2.
>>Morris says she relies on "the three F's" -- food stamps, family
>>and friends -- to provide for Donny and her 7-year-old daughter,
>>Jordan. Money's tight. She has a phone, subscribes to cable, but
>>that's it. No cellphone, no car, no computer. At 3 in the morning,
>>when an infomercial about the Web-based Specialty Merchandise
>>Corp.comes on TV, she dreams of owning a business, she says.
>>A few weeks ago, she signed up for a computer program at Trident
>>Literacy Association, a 10-minute walk from her apartment. At the
>>end  of the 10-week program, she will receive a refurbished
>>computer, free.
>>"Never too late to start, right?" Morris says. "But after I get the
>>computer I have to worry about the Internet."
>>It's a familiar story around the country, even in places as
>>Internet- savvy as San Francisco, Chicago and the District. Who can
>>get online?  Who can't? And what can be done about it?
>>Charlestonians pay as little as $20 or as much as $99 (which covers
>>phone, cable and the Internet) a month to get online, depending on
>>the package. There are a few free Wi-Fi "hot spots" in town, such
>>as the Cereality cafe on King Street, where a cappuccino costs
>>Nearly two years ago, officials vowed to spread Internet access
>>across the city. An initiative called the Charleston Digital
>>Corridor  selected a proposal to build a citywide Wi-Fi grid. It
>>was meant to  give everybody free Wi-Fi -- and the city didn't even
>>have to pay for  it. As in other municipalities that are developing
>>public Wi-Fi  projects, now numbering around 400, the goal is
>>twofold: to empower  small businesses and to plug poorer
>>neighborhoods such as Cooper  River Courts into the online world.
>>But like other cities, including San Francisco, Charleston has
>>struggled with its Wi-Fi project. The city originally said the
>>service would be up and running at the end of 2005. It was delayed.
>>Twice. When it finally was launched last spring, the Wi-Fi reached
>>only about 30 to 40 percent of its intended coverage.
>>And the Charlestonians tapping into the free Wi-Fi network --
>>sometimes more than 200 surfers a day -- were largely the ones who
>>could already afford to pay for it.
>>Now the citywide Wi-Fi project is in limbo. But Ernest Andrade,
>>head of the Digital Corridor, is optimistic: "We're evaluating
>>right now and I know that we'll bring Wi-Fi access to the rest of
>>this city," he pledges. Morris sounds upbeat, too. She plans on
>>sticking with her  10-week computer course. "Not having the
>>Internet in this day and  time makes me feel disconnected from a
>>whole other world. Things I  could see, things I could hear, things
>>I could do.
>>"I could take my kids to other places on the Internet," says Morris
>>as Donny naps on her lap. "Sometimes I feel shortchanged. Not
>>envious, but shortchanged."
>>She just turned 45 three days ago. By her 46th birthday, she hopes
>>to  own a computer -- and be online.
>>s. e. anderson (author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners" -
>>Writers + Readers) + http://blackeducator.blogspot.com
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Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
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Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
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