Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Who Says There's No Digital Divide?

Quest for Surplus Laptops leaves 17 Injured in Virginia stampede.

An effort to sell off used laptops for as little as $50 USD turned ugly and violent yesterday, when more 5,000 showed up at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway to purchase one of 1,000 surplus machines.

Poor planning by event organizers and an unanticipated large turn-out have been blamed for the near-riot in Virginia's capital city.

The computers were surplus machines of various area school districts.

Various news agencies in the commonwealth and across the nation have reported that numerous people had sustained injuries related to the stampede to enter the warehouse where the sale was held.

Richmond Times-Dispatch correspondents Olympia Meola and Alexa Williams earn the "Information Poverty is War" quote of the week:

Lester Caudill consoled his crying 14-year-old daughter outside the warehouse, while waiting for a family member who made it inside. He said his family had waited at the gate since 3 a.m.

"It's like the people are going to die if they don't get a computer," he said. "This is like the last chopper out of Saigon."
Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 17, 2005.

A majority of the U.S. upper-middle and upper-class seem to be under the misguided notion that the Digital Divide is something that exists elsewhere in the world. A few weeks ago, a Pew Study claimed that a vast majority of American teens had Internet access. There were even a few headlines in the nation's major dailies proclaiming an end to the Digital Divide was in sight.

"Access" of course is a loaded term. Not to discredit the Pew polling, but, as most librarians and other information professionals are aware, access is not synonymous with equality of access.

Our public libraries are filled with patrons who constantly cram into underfunded, minimally maintained computer centers across the country. A majority, and I'm assuming here, probably have limited or no computer access at home. And access is only one part of the problem.

Effective usability is another key element of any information and communication technology (ICT) adoption. For a large segment of the American population, public libraries and schools provide the only means of surfing the web, communicating electronically, and producing documents such as resumes.

If bulk access to ICT is the only thing that matters, then why did 5,500 people stampede in my home state yesterday over hand-me-down computers?



LOCAL COVERAGE:
TimesDispatch.com: iBook sale creates chaos

Photo Credit: Dean Hoffmeyer / Richmond Times-Dispatch, as posted by the Detroit News website: (http://www.detnews.com/2005/technology/0508/17/0tech-283130.htm)
Caption: Henrico County Police Sgt. A. J. Scott tries to control the crowd rushing to get an iBook through an open door at the Richmond International Raceway complex in Richmond, Va., Tuesday. (Detnews.com)

2 comments:

Smurf said...

WOW! I was watching a little bit of Good Morning America todayand they had a segment about a piece done by Good Housekeeping on the BACKPACKS. Well, the people who were on the show did a bunch of testing on durability of backpacks. The reason I am telling you about this, is there is a backpack that is SPECIFICALLY made with a special cushiony pocket to carry a laptop! (I guess I am getting old, cuz NO-ONE, I mean, NO STUDENTS carried laptops in their backpacks to school when I was in high school!!! A few teachers had them, but that was about it!) But yah, a backpack created to carry laptops!

G said...

If you freebie it, they will come ...

My question is whether this is because of the digital divide, or if this was simply the 'have to get it for it is cheap/free' crowd. You know, the same ones who stampede yard sales, tying up traffic at 6am on a Saturday to get to the yard sale that starts at 9.

That said, 5,500 is a large crowd. If it is because of the divide, and people lacking computers, then I have two more questions.

(1) When did society reach that point where everyone must have a computer, lest their life be incomplete without one?

(2) Most of the drive for the necessity of computers is for Internet access. Few, if any of those stampeders were fighting for machines for the solitaire games, I think we can safely assume. They came from a school district, so they are likely wireless-enabled. I wonder how many of the people who picked one up live in areas where they can actually access the Internet via a wireless connection? That's gotta be the disappointment of the year for them if they cannot - a fullout stampede to get, well, solitaire. How nice.