Nellie Bowles reports on the unexpected impact of new technology, namely its unequal utilization across American communities and among the young:
It wasn’t long ago that the worry was that rich students would have access to the internet earlier, gaining tech skills and creating a digital divide. Schools ask students to do homework online, while only about two-thirds of people in the U.S. have broadband internet service. But now, as Silicon Valley’s parents increasingly panic over the impact screens have on their children and move toward screen-free lifestyles, worries over a new digital divide are rising. It could happen that the children of poorer and middle-class parents will be raised by screens, while the children of Silicon Valley’s elite will be going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction.
This is already playing out. Throwback play-based preschools are trending in affluent neighborhoods — but Utah has been rolling out a state-funded online-only preschool, now serving around ten thousand children. Organizers announced the screen-based preschool effort will expand in 2019 with a federal grant to Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho and Montana.
Lower-income teens spend an average of eight hours and seven minutes a day using screens for entertainment, while higher income peers spend five hours and 42 minutes, according to research by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit media watchdog. (This study counted each screen separately, so a child texting on a phone and watching TV for one hour counted as two hours of screens being used.) Two studies that look at race have found that white children are exposed to screens significantly less than African-American and Hispanic children.
“The future is already here,” said William Gibson, “it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I think what we’re seeing is that even as new technologies become “evenly distributed” across geography and demographics, norms and habits of use of that technology also change in response to the pervasive availability of those technologies.