My last blog post had a few comments I’d like to address…
@brad & andromeda:
I agree with andromeda: there are quite a few people who are angry about inequalities in the transportation sector, and, as a fellow Detroiter, I’m a little shocked at your Galtian position. Sure, people in Detroit have buses, but do they have a real opportunity to work north of 8 Mile? Inequalities in transportation are a major source of economic inequality in metro Detroit. (For the record, my first library job was at Oakland University…a bus trip just shy of two hours from Wayne State.)
I suppose the crux of the equal access debate is whether information should be treated as a social utility, akin to electricity, water, or gas. Here’s a helpful analogy: As it stands, the rich and poor drink the same tap water from pretty much the same types of faucets. The rates are largely the same across a given geographic region, and the quality is fairly consistent. Granted, upper income brackets have the option to buy $70 bottled water or $1000 brushed nickel faucets, but these products only add social cachet and are, in the pragmatic sense, the same as the water and faucets in a low-income household. We can point to water as a utility that is functionally equal with respect to cost and access.
Extend this analogy to the debate at hand: Proffering mobile technologies as a means to bridge the digital divide is akin to telling low-income families, “Sorry, we can only provide you with two low-flow faucets per household, and a limit of 300L/day…but, don’t worry, the water is the same!” This is wrong. If we are to treat access to information as a utility, then we have to ensure the same quality in access points for all users. The water may be the same, but if you can’t drink as much as you need, then there is a real problem.
I agree, wholeheartedly. Whether we wire every home in America, or saturate every nook and cranny in wi-fi signals, a disparity will still exist. I worry that some of the technorati are too focused on technology qua consumption, which is the primary provenance of smartphones. What about the unemployed autoworker who needs to apply for jobs online? What of the high-school student who is still writing essays in longhand? What do we do for the single mother who wants to take online courses? Give each one a Blackberry?
You’ll get your knife as soon as you can best me in a round of knifey-spoony.