Now there's a good comment! "Getting usable technical advice and help would often be very difficult..."
I think the dearth and expense of knowledge and skills and maintenance/back-up are likely to be as big a barrier as any lack of computers.
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Michael H Goldhaber
To: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">[log in to unmask]
Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 7:31 PM
Subject: digital divide

Whatever its origins, the digital divide facing America's poor, and especially African-Americans, and especially children and teenagers is nothing less than tragic. It is the equivalent of southern share-croppers' children in the 193o's not being able to go to school at all because they had no shoes. The typical teenager today is able to take for granted having her own computer, cell phone and TV, and computers are used to discover the world, to gain a sense of mastery to be in  constant contact with other teenagers, to develop tastes and pass them on, to create in all sorts of ways, and to play games. We may decry how teenagers use their computers in many cases,  but to be deprived of the chance to explore what others explore is a devastating loss, segregating off a  a segment of society from all the rest, creating a wall which is likely to last all through adulthood. 

When I was little my parents expected me to wear my older brother's cast off clothes. I didn't want to; I wanted what I chose for myself, new. Eric, you are to be applauded for your  efforts to get surplus computers into the hands of the poor, but, just as most poor people in the US today might feel that hand-me-down clothes are an insult, I strongly suspect that many would have problems with surplus, old computers, not to mention that getting usable technical advice and help would often be very difficult. Just as I favor cities installing free wi-fi for all, I believe we should support laws mandating free computers, like free textbooks, for every child. 

Parenthetically, I don't believe we erase the "culture of poverty" by telling the poor they could spend their  money or time more wisely. They have to have easy opportunities, and maybe a lot of hand-holding. I think Sennett and Cobb's 1970's book "Hidden Injuries of Class" is worth recalling in this regard.

And let me back Maurice's call for gentleness.



On Jul 25, 2007, at 9:37 AM, Eric Entemann wrote:

I must express my gratitude to Phil.  I now realize that I have been wrong for the past 30 yy during which I have tried to encourage my students (virtually all low-income, mostly of color) to study rather than watch stupid TV shows or play violent video games, and for my involvement in getting thousands of surplus computers into the hands of poor people here and in third-world countries.  The scales have been lifted from mine eyes and I can now admit to having been racist in those endeavors.

Instead, I should have devoted my full energies to the struggle for the downfall of capitalism, as Phil clearly does.  You are my hero, Phil.  I love you.

----Original Message Follows----
From: Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List              <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Talking gently.
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 08:31:04 -0500

Oops--I meant that response to go to Maurice, not to the whole list. Apologies.

Incidentally, the fact that provocations can sometimes be constructive, doesn't mean they always are or even generally are (unless you believe that every cloud has a silver lining). A racist rant would be highly provocative, but perhaps not very constructive.


At 10:15 AM +0100 7/25/07, Michael Balter wrote:
With all due respect to Phil, whom I admire greatly, I have problems with the use of the word "provocation" on this list, and not just because it was repeatedly aimed at me not so long ago. A provocation appears to be when someone on this list says something that others do not agree with because it appears to violate some shared assumption that we are all supposed to have. If so, then we need more provocations on this list, not fewer, if the left is to engage in the kind of self-examination it so badly needs. Sorry Les, but I have not banged on too much about this lately, have I?

love, like Maurice says, but tough love.


On 7/25/07, Phil Gasper <<mailto:[log in to unmask]>[log in to unmask] > wrote:


I thought the tone of my first response to what was, frankly, an ignorant and provocative post was very "gentle". I also think a little sarcasm is appropriate when the ignorance is not only repeated but magnified. I certainly think it's missing the point in a big way to equate my response with Eric E.'s double provocation, but you're entitled to your own opinion, of course.


At 9:44 AM +0200 7/25/07, Maurice Bazin wrote:

Dear all,

fascinating for me who will fly from Paris to Rio de Janeiro (via Florianópolis) in a few hours, to read a truly American exchange  about technology and life in America.

Claudia's contribution is very illuminating, technical, social and full of feeling.  She does not argue! She talks with us all.

 I ask our friends Phil and Eric and more male participants to learn from Claudia.  Learn to be gentle! Please!  It is so good to read gentle tones when one is afar and then wishes one were there, with you all at the next AAAS meeting.

Love.  Yours truly,


Maurice Bazin, last hours in Paris

On Jul 25, 2007, at 7:04 AM, Claudia Hemphill Pine 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 <<mailto:[log in to unmask]>[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----
Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List
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----
Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List
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 <>

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" -

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Contributing Correspondent, Science

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