Just When We Got Used to the Old ‘Digital Divide,’ Here Comes the ‘Time-Wasting Gap’
Wasting time last weekend while waiting for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer to start at my local movie theater, I killed a few minutes by destroying the undead in a zombie game I’d downloaded onto my phone. After a few minutes, I looked around at all of the glowing screens in the hands of people seated about me and realized most everyone else was doing the same thing – playing games, checking Facebook, watching YouTube or sending tweets – each person ticking off the spare minutes until the big screen lit up with Honest Abe and his silver axe.
I remembered a time when people used to sit in a semi-darkened theater and just await the previews and feature presentation. Uncomfortably, I realized that maybe I was becoming some sort of zombie who’d joined everyone else in having to occupy my mind at all times with technology. I stuck my phone in my pocket, feeling guilty that I was contributing to a growing problem of technology overload.
Earlier in the day, I’d read an article online in the New York Times that cited a study undertaken by the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, which determined that video games designed to help people exercise more than their thumbs on a game controller didn’t do much to help the legions of sedentary, overweight coach potatoes, young and old. In fact, according to the article, the study found “no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at any time, than children receiving the inactive video games.”
As a seasoned Wii bowler, tennis player and Super Mario Galaxy athlete, I was taken aback when I read the article, so much so that I almost fell off the couch and dropped my giant bowl of potato chips. But I had to concede that there likely was truth in the study.
I was more troubled by another New York Times article that claimed an unexpected side effect of efforts to combat the digital divide has emerged. According to researchers, a concentrated effort to provide computing tools to all Americans has resulted in children spending more time watching videos, playing games and connecting with others on social networking sites.
The researchers call it the “time-wasting gap.”
Redemtech, in conjunction with Connect2Compete (C2C) a national nonprofit organization striving to improve the lives of Americans regardless of age, race, geography, income or education level using technology to access educational content, has been demonstrating through GoodPC its commitment to providing low-cost refurbished computers that will be used to help young people gain knowledge and older Americans to advance their careers. Together with our partners, we’re trying to close the digital divide. Now it seems we have another gap to contend with.
As Lindsay Shanahan, Director of Serious Good, described in a recent blog, Redemtech is helping C2C to pilot a program with 39,000 students in 56 schools in California with discounted computer offerings for eligible families. The emphasis of this program, which is supported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is to help people currently unable to access technology with the means to do so. According to the New York Times article, the new divide is such a cause of concern for the FCC that the agency is considering the creation of a digital literacy corps; a group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers who would go to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.
“Digital literacy is so important,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, adding that bridging the digital divide now also means “giving parents and students the tools and know-how to use technology for education and job-skills training.”
It’s been our experience that the people in programs such as our partnership with Habitat for Humanity and C2C who are in need of computers readily accept the responsibility for using the technology to improve their lives. We believe every American deserves the same opportunities to utilize technology for educational, work-related and even leisure activities.
Judging from what I observe in various public settings ranging from movie theaters and shopping malls to city parks and public libraries, wasting time with technology is not limited to any specific demographic. It almost seems universal. And it underlines for me a greater need for adults to monitor what our kids are doing on their computers and phones, and maybe set some examples.