Digital Divide?
June 1, 2012 1:00 PM   Subscribe

The NYT published an article this week covering a new "digital divide" where poor children are spending more time "wasting time" online.

The article states that low income children are more likely to waste time online then their peers who have college educated parents. "The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers." School Librarians however would like to see money funneled to library in programs in schools where School Library Media Specialists positions have been cut in recent years. More coverage about teens and the digital divide from Pew Internet & American Life Project
posted by momochan (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Teach them all to become pastors for free! Then show them AskMe and how questions cost you a week but answers are free and they'll be hooked.
posted by circular at 1:02 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This article shows what low-income family kids are doing, but doesn't address kids in middle- or high-income families at all. I would be interested in a comparison.
posted by troika at 1:05 PM on June 1, 2012

This is a non-problem. Not all kids are going to spend their time reading wikipedia articles and teaching themselves how to program. If kids have access to the material and the time to get to it, then whether they choose to access it is their problem.

I suspect, though, that the reason that they are spending their time shitting up youtube with semi-literate comments instead of educating themselves watching documentaries and reading ebooks is that the public schools are still completely failing to teach them how to read and write, so they CAN'T take advantage of wikipedia.

I suspect that the solution that's going to be proposed is to block kids from facebook instead of teaching them how to read, though, which is exactly backwards.
posted by empath at 1:14 PM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

Troika, the article does say things like:
A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.
We're still talking about an amazing amount of media exposure (especially when I think of my childhood, with that one 13" B&W TV in my parents bedroom), but the more educated the parents, the less the children are exposed to.
posted by straw at 1:14 PM on June 1, 2012

It's so obvious. Low-income kids aren't in's target audience.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Earlier today, while I was skimming through a series of increasingly upsetting news stories across the web, I thought to myself, "I feel like playing a videogame. I wonder what I should pick." Then I thought, "Actually, I don't feel like playing a videogame at all. I feel like doing something creative and expressive like practicing a musical instrument or writing collaboratively with another person. Why don't I do something like that? Why is it that I seem to want to patch over this feeling with being able to lose an easily manageable block of time?"

Then I remembered for the first time today that I live in a fucking endless ghetto where everyone hates me and I have no access to any real resources, positive things to do or opportunities to grow as a human being.

Anyway, I'm turning my laptop off and going to go find an interesting book.
posted by byanyothername at 1:25 PM on June 1, 2012 [13 favorites]

Sorry, I guess I should have been more specific - the only examples in the story are a low income school and parents who aren't college grads. Though examples don't speak for everyone, it would have been nice to see comparison examples.

I'm also frustrated with the last bit - “he’s going to do the first negative thing he can find to do when he gets on the computer." Gotta watch out for those young people!
posted by troika at 1:26 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look at the poor savages, doing what they want and not what will generate ideas/resources for us to leverage off of them for our own gain! We have to help them!

Weird colonial-attitude vibe aside, do these people REALLY think that wasting time is class dependent? Have they seen the amounts of money their own children through into Maple Story and Farmville? God forbid they pay attention to the time spent to boot...
posted by Slackermagee at 1:29 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Is there a link to the NYT article? The data on the first link do not really indicate that poor people are more likely to use the internet.
posted by francesca too at 1:29 PM on June 1, 2012

*ugh, throw not through
posted by Slackermagee at 1:30 PM on June 1, 2012

My first thought when I read this was "I see the fine Victorian tradition of moralizing about the naughty behavior of the lower classes is alive and well at the Times".
posted by immlass at 1:31 PM on June 1, 2012 [22 favorites]

how dare the poors enjoy themselves. you have to be rich to enjoy things, the rich can afford it. how can the poors afford enjoying anything, do they see how the economy is doing. the economy is miserable, this is no time to enjoy yourself. for proof look at the rich, the rich aren't enjoying themselves, no not one bit especially in this economy, but thanks to the poors now they definitely won't, not when the poors are enjoying themselves, not when they are enjoying their conditions, if they are enjoying themselves what reason do they have to do better, to work, to labor, to turn this economy around

stop the video games and
get to work you poor people
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:33 PM on June 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

america needs you
to quit playing farmville
and get out there
and be miserable and bored
only misery induces people to work
nothing else does
no one does it on their own
that is why the rich don't work
more misery = more productivity
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

(Kaiser double counts time spent multitasking. If a child spends an hour simultaneously watching TV and surfing the Internet, the researchers counted two hours.)

That's fucking stupid, though, isn't it? I mean, if you're looking at 'time spent doing x' it doesn't matter how much x you do in your hour, an hour spent is an hour spent. Hell, why don't we start counting how many webpages the kids are reading, and and start counting double for those kids who read twice as fast? Or only count the hours spent idly daydreaming in front of the TV half (they're not paying attention, after all)? An hour is an hour.
posted by Dysk at 1:37 PM on June 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

When I was a kid I had an Atari 2600, but I only used it for BASIC Programming.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:39 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.

The study is here; toplines from previous surveys (1999, 2004, 2009) are also available. Please note that the quote above is about *all* media, not just computers. The breakdown on computer use is on page 73 of the full report.

My usual disclaimer: I work for the place that produced this, but I don't do any of the writing or research.
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

"“I’m not antitechnology at home, but it’s not a savior,” said Laura Robell, the principal at Elmhurst Community Prep, a public middle school in East Oakland, Calif., who has long doubted the value of putting a computer in every home without proper oversight. "

What is this I don't even
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:42 PM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

I don't know - I happen to have spent a good deal of time around a group of lower-income kids whose parents have less education. I've watched those kids play computer games and play regular games. I'm familiar enough with the group to say that some of the kids are unusually bright, some average; their parents range from involved to distant. And I do definitely notice that these kids have more trouble doing regular computer stuff (figuring out how to move from screen to screen, figuring out how to create a user ID, etc) than the middle class kids I observe. And they're more likely to spend more time on super-simple games.

It's true that the rhetoric of access and equality gets hijacked by the wealthy in order to convince us all that what poor folks really need is to become better, faster stronger servants, preferably working for love rather than for money. But honestly, the more doors you can open for yourself, the more potential you have for happiness and for achieving social change. Kids get channeled into these super-capitalist, super-canalized things like, jesus-god, YouTube comments...and they simply don't have the freedom that knowledge and experience bring.

Having your culture disparaged is not the only burden of being poor - nor is the only burden of poverty being told that you're having fun the wrong way (a la the endless middle class freak-out over Traveller weddings). If that were it, poverty would be a self-esteem problem. The problem with being poor is that on every level it forecloses opportunity, freedom and choice - and forecloses the things you can do against capital by limiting your access to knowledge and action.
posted by Frowner at 1:45 PM on June 1, 2012 [16 favorites]

Oh, wait, I think she means without parental oversight of computer use, not, like, societal oversight of who gets a computer in their home? That's a really unfortunate prepositional phrase.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:48 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Indeed, it seems the report authors also think it's a bit fucking stupid to count the same hour twice, and hence subtract the amount of time spent multi-tasking from the 'media exposure' figure for the 'media use' figure, according to the methodology section of the report. The NY Times, of course, then start talking about how Kaiser double counts multitasking hours when estimating media use. Which is flat fucking incorrect.

Journalism at its finest.
posted by Dysk at 1:49 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh for farting farts. I spend like 80% of my free time on the internet looking at pictures of polar bears saying misspelled things.

Coming up next: Low-income children sleep at night! Why don't they use that time to study or work?
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

the kids are wasting time that could better be spent watching tv
posted by Postroad at 1:55 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

God forbid that any child could waste time online.

I do little else, apart from try to earn money, drink, and masturbate.
posted by colie at 2:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh my god. I just talked about this article at a talk I was giving for CUNY librarians today. It's interesting that they changed the title of the article from

"New 'Digital Divide' Seen in Wasting Time Online"


"Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era"

which is sort of a big difference to me. I had someone in the Q&A period actually go off about how the internet IS about wasting time and that's what's so lousy about it and how faculty can get things DONE if they have no internet and it totally makes sense that they would only want to be contacted via fax. I Am Not Joking [though I am paraphrasing].

I found the tone of this article totally snotty. The basic gist is that airlifting poor people [kids especially] computers and internet does not make them magically able to use them for homework/schoolwork, nor, honestly, should it. It seemed like the general gist was "Kids who do worse in school do worse in school" [i.e. the kids fucking around online might have been fucking around anyhow and this is in line with a lot of other socioeconomic studies which have to do with much more than just facebook or the internet]. The student (which I'd read before) is interesting, this article is much less interesting.
posted by jessamyn at 2:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yeah it's just "hey we found a new thing to plop in front of our kids so they leave us alone, since we can't afford to send them to structured activities every day after school." But I'm sure it was better when they were on our lawns.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:14 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Am I crazy, or wasn't this also said about television about twenty years ago? I feel like this is a complete nonstory, except that they've replaced the key words.

It seemed like the general gist was "Kids who do worse in school do worse in school" [i.e. the kids fucking around online might have been fucking around anyhow and this is in line with a lot of other socioeconomic studies which have to do with much more than just facebook or the internet]

Right, and overworked parents without copious amounts of spare time may not be able to supervise their children well, regardless of the media issue. The difference between children hanging around with their friends outside and hanging around with their friends online is very small, (and possibly even positive if anything)
posted by corb at 2:16 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

As someone who's done research on class and online time, I am really pleased to see that *someone,* particularly Kaiser, is looking into this on a large scale, though of course with caveats. "Wasting time," as everyone has noted, is a loaded term. "Time on entertainment" is a more useful way to put it, and the sub-divisions (video, games, etc) are even more useful to look at. Sometimes I wish the public had access to marketers' data on stuff like this; they know so much more about predilections than we do.

I agree that the double-counting hours thing strikes me as ill-advised and should be recalculated.
posted by gusandrews at 2:19 PM on June 1, 2012

The NYT piece seems dumb for a lot of reasons pointed out above: mishandling of data to fit their narrative, mindless moral panic, pandering to their upper middle class patronage by denigrating 'the poor' and setting their media habits up as a problem to be solved. This is a PDF of the actual study conducted by Kaiser, the demographic breakdown that the NYT covers starts on page 35, in case anyone wanted to look at the actual data and methodology.

I've skimmed the study, and I'm pretty sure that the PEW study linked above covers this (it's been a while since I've read that one), but part of the reason that the usage patterns may be different across socio-economic lines is that the devices being used might be different. In black and Hispanic households, I believe the primary access device tends to be a mobile phone. The stuff you can do on a mobile phone is pretty vastly different from the stuff you can do with a PC on a desk.

The FCC's reaction (a one time, 200 million dollar air-drop program that seems suspiciously tied to corporate donations) is well intentioned, but I'm doubtful how effective that would be. For one thing, the sponsors of these types of programs tend to use it as free advertising. I know from experience that the Verizon helping hands programs aren't much more than really shoddy ways to get Verizon branding in front of an emerging market (new computer users). Gates' huge drive to put computers in libraries had the definite side effect of making sure that people learned how to use computers on Windows - I'm not assigning any nefarious goals to Gates, but that's a great way to corner a section of the market.

Aside from that, ideally these are the kind of programs that are continuous things that are done as a public good, not one-off efforts in the name of charity or moral improvement. It makes much more sense to provide better funding for libraries (both public and school) to set up technology programs which do more than send out instructors with no stake in the community to run a few lecture based classes. Current literature suggests that doing things like workshops, or community based learning is more effective at teaching computer skills than having some person talk at you for an hour. The blog post about school libraries gets it entirely right: the technology task force that the FCC wants to create ALREADY EXISTS AND HAS A WELL DEVELOPED STAKE IN THE COMMUNITY! It's called the public library, and they've been providing tech training for the past ten years or so. Check it out. Ideally, this is also what a school library does, and from what I understand from my friends who were in that tract in our program, it's what they'd like to do if they weren't constantly having their funding cut. Maybe instead of parachuting experts in to these communities you can redirect that funding to programs that already have the infrastructure, talent, and experience doing exactly what you want to do.

I also agree with the sentiment expressed in this thread that this is a systematic problem as much as it's a technological problem (which supposedly can be fixed by teaching them The Proper Methods of Computer Use). It's funny that they pull that quote by Boyd and get it, like, entirely wrong. All of the technology in the world can't fix a reality where there are no jobs, and the fantasy world of a game is more appealing than homework that doesn't seem to have relevance to your life. All of the instructors and money can't fix a household where a parent either doesn't know to care, or can't take the time to care away from their job which they need to support the family.

Anyway, to summarize, the NYT identify a real problem (that socio-economic status plays a role in how one uses online resources) and then proceeds to get every single thing about that problem wrong.

As an aside, the idea of 'information poverty' among the poor isn't a new idea at all. People have been wringing their hands about it for decades, and a lot of literature suggests that the poor aren't informationally poor at all, but rather get their information through channels outside what the middle and upper classes might deem acceptable. You're still learning something on Facebook - it's not like Facebook is a separate entity from the real world.
posted by codacorolla at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

I love tumblr, and hope kids "waste" time on it. I love browsing a random person's tumblr (usually someone a lot younger than me, of course) and getting a sense of what interests them from what they write, create, and reblog, what that tells me about the kind of person they might be, and, in aggregate, what is important to tumblr users as a group. From my aged perspective, it's endlessly fascinating, often funny, unexpected and energetic.
posted by maxwelton at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess my comment was meant to point out that there are things which might seem like a waste of time but I think have real value.
posted by maxwelton at 2:36 PM on June 1, 2012

It's a money-saver. Once you have the internet connection and the WoW (or MetaFilter) subscription, the time you spend on it not only costs you $0, it prevents you soending money elsewhere. Of course it also prevents you earning money elsewhere, but for most folks in poverty traps, to gain a new income stream requires a substantial upfront investment to gain skills, contacts, and travel, an investment which they cannot afford right now, which is why the manner in which they live is called a poverty trap.

It can be a savings strategy. I've known people who lived on the Australian dole, or minimum wage jobs, and managed to save up reasonable amounts of money purely by sitting at home all day every day, playing computer games. I'm not saying one should do this, and it incurs health and social costs, but it is not completely irrational.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:38 PM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

How is this any different from TV, or any other unsupervised behaviors? Poor parents have less free time to supervise or contribute to their children's recreation, and are also lacking the necessary means for extracurricular activities (aside from some sports).

The big difference, of course, is that the parents are far less technologically skilled than their offspring. It's always been pretty easy to restrict TV viewing time. Internet time, not so much.

Also, (as many have noted) "wasting" time is a stupid concept. We're all "wasting time" until we become worm food.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:01 PM on June 1, 2012

I recall not too long ago the worry was that children of poor parents were unable to access the internets.
posted by batou_ at 3:15 PM on June 1, 2012

The rich have luxury, the poor have fun. That's why you never sail second class.
posted by michaelh at 3:16 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think there may be a good point here that internet technology is not a panacea by any means, especially for kids with compulsive or addictive personalities.

It's not just the parents ability to limit and monitor internet use that matters, but their ability to energize kids to learn, use their creativity, and find their talents, and to show them how to use technology to do this.

This seems like a primarily cultural and social problem. If the "alpha" kids and role models (usually slightly older kids) in the neighborhood that neglected children have access to are playing "dumb" games, watching "dumb" videos, and wasting time or whatever, then that becomes the way to fit in and become socially acceptable. In middle class schools there are more and much larger peer groups that value grades, academic achievement, and other creative pursuits; and less kids fail to get needs met at home and resort to unhealthy peer groups for connection. Of course the internet is perhaps a possible way less privileged kids can escape these situations in a positive way. As maxwelton mentioned, there is probably a lot of awesomeness to be found in facebook, tumblr and elsewhere from some of these kids "wasting their time" on the computer. But just providing technology is not a solution in itself for many falling-behind kids, I would guess.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:17 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

to be a bit jaundiced: let them play games. They will not be able to afford college, and they will have sucky jobs or no jobs; if they do manage to get to college, they will run up huge debts they can not pay off. So fun now to postpone the misery later.
posted by Postroad at 3:45 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's interesting that they changed the title of the article from

"New 'Digital Divide' Seen in Wasting Time Online"


"Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era"
What's interesting to me is that the latter title implies that the original "Digital Divide" has been resolved. Access to broadband has certainly increased in the US, but there are still places without and no one really cares. The closest thing to a plan of action is currently, "Throw overpriced, overcongested monopolies that sort of look like broadband and go down all the time for no reason at the rural unserved." I live in a broadbandless area. At one point, it seemed inevitable that such places would eventually have access to broadband internet, but I no longer think this area ever will. It shouldn't be terribly surprising that we spend more time hammering the refresh button on MetaFilter and screwing around in Farmville when the TED talks you send us don't work and the rest of the internet moves in a broadband heavy direction.

Also, many of the comments here are too focused on individuals, I think. Increasing access to information can be poisonous when you don't also have an increase in social/economic opportunities and autonomy. If poorer people really do waste more time online than people in higher social classes (and this seems intuitively and anecdotally true to me), I'd guess that that's most likely because they have fewer alternatives.

"Drink and dance and screw, because there's nothing else to do," as one of the most compassionately caustic poets of my generation said.
posted by byanyothername at 4:05 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I first stumbled on this site, the result of an article in a soggy WSJ left outside my door, I bookmarked it under "time wasters."
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:41 PM on June 1, 2012

Re troika's frustration that "...the only examples in the story are a low income school and parents who aren't college grads...".

If I point to the children of the more educated parents I know, I look at things like kids building a motion flight simulator, or making science videos.

Mrs. straw and I run a program to do crafts and projects with low income kids and we're very frustrated with the cultural push towards "complete toys" that we see there. Those kids get more plastic swords and such, where the upper income kids are told to go find a stick. Seems like the higher up the income ladder the more self-directed narrative the kids need to come up with. We struggle with getting kids to explore materials and build interesting things, a problem we don't have in our interactions with kids of more educated parents (she was a nanny for many years, so we've had plenty of those for comparison).
posted by straw at 4:47 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd like to see a comparison of how much more time poor kids waste driving around in the Acura that mommy and daddy bought them than rich kids do.
posted by klanawa at 6:13 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey! Poor kids! Yeah you! Stop reading this and go to a useful part of the internet!
posted by cacofonie at 6:33 PM on June 1, 2012

Hey! Poor kids! Yeah you! Stop reading this and go to a useful part of the internet!

But MetaFilter is the useful part of the internet!
posted by saulgoodman at 6:44 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've learned more from my better informed peers here on the blue in the last 8 or so years (counting my sockpuppet years) than I learned in all seven of the years of college it took me to earn my B.A. if the kids are hanging here, that should be considered 'reading,' not surfing the web.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:49 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find it weird that the article exclusively talked about hours spent online, with no reference to any other activity the kids could be doing. Unlike dance or guitar lessons after school, the internet is free. Unlike many public places where kids used to be able to play safely, like parks, there are relatively few physical dangers in going online.

The internet is supposed to be this democratic medium that everyone has access too, and now we're all like, Boo hoo, kids are going on it? The internet is currently one of the few social spaces where kids are relatively welcome wherever they want to go there, and doesn't cost an entry fee, is safe (from immediate physical danger), and requires little help or investment from society at large to maintain. Of course kids with lower socioeconomic status are going to spend more time online, because they are humans who want to socialize and be entertained. It seems disingenuous that the Times article is problematizing internet usage but presenting the only other viable option as !Work!
posted by kettleoffish at 7:28 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

When middle and upper class kids use the internet, it is a good thing.

When lower-class kids use the internet, they are "wasting time".

The message can't be any more clear - the poor are lazy and anything they do is useless.
posted by RalphSlate at 9:40 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.

The study found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets. That is an increase of 4 hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999.

This seems (at best) incomplete without an analysis of what the more affluent children are doing though. Kids from a more privileged background tend to have more extracurricular activities available, live in neighborhoods where there are safe places to play and hang out with their friends within walking distance (or parents who can drive them), etc. There are a lot of explanations that make a lot more sense than "poor kids are too stupid to know how to spend their time."
posted by kagredon at 1:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

ALL of the 'developing' world is going to be sidetracked into continuing non-development by facebook:
posted by drummergirl80 at 1:57 AM on June 3, 2012

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