The Great Technical Divide
Our lives in the 21st Century have been defined by technology. Twenty years ago, I didn’t own a cell phone, now I can’t leave home without it. Cablevision just informed me that I have 9 devices in my home that run on wi-fi. That’s 9 devices for the two of us, and just at home. Fifteen years ago, we had none.
My workday begins by checking e-mail, the weather, the stock market and news headlines, I grade papers that students submitted online and record their grades using online rubrics. When it’s time for lunch, I look at online menus for local restaurants and place an online order.
After lunch, I return calls on my iphone, answer more e-mails, perhaps grade more papers. If I don’t have a meeting in which everyone sits with a computer or ipad in front of them, I might sit down to write an article such as this one on my computer, send it on the same device and expect a response from the publisher before day’s end.
As I drive home after work, I return any unanswered calls on Bluetooth, and then plug my iphone into the car or listen to Satellite radio. After dinner, I sit with my ipad, check late incoming emails, bone up on my poker skills, go to Amazon.com to purchase whatever my wife says we need, and then either watch a bit of a streamed movie or series or read on my ipad before turning in. The question isn’t how could I do my job without constant access to technology, but rather, how could I live the life I’ve chosen.
My daughter’s high school students in the Bronx can’t enjoy this level of access at home or in school. Their peers just a few miles away over the Westchester border are constantly tuned into technology, much as I am. The difference represents the greatest class and racial divide in history, but because technology is often a private affair, no on is screaming from the roof tops.
Years back, Latin served as the great divide. More recently, mathematics has served that function. In both cases, bright motivated youngsters without means could prepare to overcome those hurdles.
Today, technology has built the greatest wall between the haves and have nots in history. The wall may be virtual, but the students of color on the wrong side of the divide find it insurmountable. It will remain so until we first recognize the problem we’ve created and then commit as a society to invest the resources necessary to even the playing field for all of our children. As Ronald Reagan once said of another divide, “Tear down that wall.”
Eric Nadelstern is a professor of Practice in Education Leadership at the Teachers College of Columbia University