Bridging the Digital Divide: A Matter of Equality

I spoke to a gentleman recently about the efforts of public libraries to bridge the Digital Divide, both in terms of offering broadband internet access to those who otherwise don’t have it, and teaching digital and information literacy to those who need it.

This gentleman told me that he thinks the internet is useless. He’s been online, tried the social media thing, wandered around the web, and he sees no value in any of it. He concluded that it’s all just a flood of unreliable, unverified information, and people being mean and wasting time. He believes that we’d all be better off without it.

He told me that he can’t understand why we work so hard to provide access to something that people don’t need and shouldn’t be using in the first place. I don’t believe this man was intentionally exclusionary or prejudiced—he sincerely couldn’t understand why anyone would value something which, to him, is so obviously value-less.

Rather than argue with this gentleman’s opinions regarding the supposed value of the internet, I responded:

At least you had a choice.

He had the opportunity to experience the digital realm firsthand and decide for himself whether he wanted to be a part of it. He had the privilege of rejecting it of his own free will. He occupies a position in our society in which he suffers no particular ill effect by not participating online.

People on the have-not side of the Digital Divide don’t have that opportunity or that privilege. They don’t have a choice.

That’s the difference. That’s why it matters.

Libraries provide internet access and digital literacy to people who have no choice otherwise—people who don’t have the opportunity to make that decision for themselves any other way.

It could be that we’ll go to all this effort only for people to come to the same conclusion as this gentleman and decide they don’t want it. I’d be fine with that, as long as I know they make the decision for themselves from a position of knowledge.

For the gentleman to whom I spoke recently, the choice was his to make. For those on the have-not side of the Digital Divide, they have no choice.

That’s the difference. That’s why it matters.

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