Haves and Have Nots

In Dennis Baron’s article “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technology,” Baron claims that “Literacy has always functioned to divide haves from have nots” (16). This struck me hard. I never really viewed literacy as a form of currency in the world that allows some to get much further ahead than others. I take my ability to read and my access to a computer for granted on a daily basis. I assume that words are mine for consuming; I don’t think of them as a code, a way to divide people. Those who can understand and use the written word and now specifically the computer have a high advantage over those who cannot. Computers can, as President Clinton and a Governor of Illinois believed, improve literacy, but this improvement also depends on who has computers and who has been taught the skills to use them (1).

I listened to an NPR broadcast called “Closing Digital Divide, Expanding Digital Literacy” (http://www.npr.org/2011/06/29/137499299/closing-digital-divide-expanding-digital-literacy) to find out more about the division between haves and have nots when it comes to computers. S. Craig Watkins, a sociology professor, discusses how this divide is not simply about who has access to computers and who does not; it involves how people are actually using the technology. Watkins describes two kinds of technology users: those who use it mostly to interact with friends, and those who use it for “interest-based reasons.” The interest-based reasons include youth who are eager to know more and communicate about a certain hobby or, well, interest, and this group of technology users tend to be white and Asian kids from richer communities and schools. However, Watkins believes that youth in general are learning more about these new technologies and developing skills that allow them to actually create content and compete in the job market. They are doing so through informal methods, like in afterschool programs, and perhaps this informal spreading of knowledge can help bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots. If this technology can help improve literacy, how do we make sure that all people, and not just the upper and middle classes or members of a certain race, not only get access to computers and the Internet but also have the same ability to learn useful digital skills? Will the constant introduction of new technology used for rhetoric ever be able to close the divide that Baron claims literacy has always enhanced?

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