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Imagine walking down the street while downloading your emails to your personal digital assistant (PDA) or perhaps ordering your movie tickets through your cell phone while using short messaging systems (SMS). In America, it is possible but probably not the norm. If you are working for a technology multinational you are probably wired at all times; work, home and in route to either location. Statically, in the United States, if your income is over $75,000USD, you are white and college educated your household will be wired (Walker, 1997).
Internet usage, which is only ten years old, is growing from the high end of the socioeconomic scale and slowly filtering down to the low end. (Walker-Barnes, 2001). Is America wired for everyone? What about the 79% of the population who are making less than this amount, how are they connected? What does wired mean? For the purposes of this paper, ‘wired’ and technology will refer to using a computer connected to the Internet. There are, however, many devices that can be linked to the Internet, PDA’s, cell phones, kitchen appliances, etc.
In America, technology related activities are classified in society as two distinct groups – individuals who have access to computer and those who do not (Walker, 1997).
Children who were eligible for subsided lunches in 88 percent of our nation’s schools had an extremely low rate of access to the Internet. Approximately 11 percent of these children were able to access the net. (Hecht, 2001). There is also a difference among racial categories Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders.
With minority groups, access and use of the Internet is proven to be related to one’s income and education (Cronin, 2002). Hamilton (1998) reported that 82 percent of public schools were wired to the Internet and the expectation was to have 98 percent on-line by end of 2000. An impressive statistic, but what do we mean by wired? The CEO Forum (2002), part of the president’s National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council, which reviews public education and technology, is now defining the parameters for use of new technologies in the classroom. Their findings in have resulted in only 3% of our nation’s schools integrating Internet technology in the classroom (CEO Forum, 2002). Relying on schools to prepare the next generation for the Internet future is an urgent area that the US need to address as a nation in order to remain a global competitor. The convergence of the technology within our school structure is not merely wires, but people’s willingness to adopt new technologies, incorporation of the technology into the curriculum, and be able to use it. Reporting statically on the number of computers that is “wired” is not an effective strategy for the future.
The strategy should use an amalgamation of the technology along with interactive communication (CEO Forum, 2002; see also Hamilton, 1998). Areas for review are technological funding and unified curriculum programs for schools, teachers, parents, and students (CEO Forum, 2002; see also Hamilton, 1998; Nie, 2001). Currently, national reports demonstrate only $4.50 is being spent on technical training for teachers, and no federally funded programs are available for parents of school aged children (CEO Forum, 2002; see also Hamilton, 1998). In 2002, the CEO Forum found more than 59 percent of schools were using old personal computers with insufficient memory and graphic cards which were mostly located in offices or in outdated lab configurations, making student access an issue. Is there adequate Internet access for the public in our area? No is the simplest answer. Currently in Delaware County, the adolescent population for this county is 187,300 or 34 percent of the population in the county (U.S. Census, 2000). The children of low-income families would gain public access to the net via school or a library. The general assumption in most of the research is low-income families are not wired (Hecht, 2001). Therefore using the current library infrastructure would mean 52 students an hour might need access to a computer. On average, Delaware county libraries only have six terminals in place. The U.S. strategy for wired technology is to place a computer with high-speed connections in every home.
There are arguments concerning the use and placement of home computers. In Ireland, the town Ennis went totally wired – every house regardless of income was given a computer and internet connection (Irish Times, 2001). After four years, this strategy had some impact on the use, but no stellar reports were generated (Irish Times, 2001). Alternatively, the Scandinavians have not limited themselves to the wired technology; instead they have chosen to embrace technology, use existing infrastructures to get ‘wired or go wireless’ (Powell, 1998). All Scandinavian schools have incorporated net technologies within the classroom; Corporate sponsored kiosks are openly displayed through campuses and towns (Powell, 1998). . It seems that the US may be adapting a strategy, which in the long term will be expensive and result in little or no return on this investment. Maybe the strategy should focus on schools, libraries and encouraging Internet caf’ businesses; instead of concentrating on an access point in the home. The next area is content. There is a need to make more documents available in native languages. Currently 87 percent of the documents on the Internet are in English (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002).
Hecht’s (2002)-research state there are approximately 32 million Americans in which English is the second language. Published research states only 10 percent of the web had appropriate sites for limited literacy adults (Hecht, 2000; see also Nie, 2001). Nie’s (2001) research has demonstrated that it is probable by using the Internet will influence interpersonal communication with family and friends. Numerous reports demonstrate that Internet usage decreases time with family and friends (Nie, 2001). In addition, the more experienced the user, the longer time spent time connected to the Internet (Nie, 2001). The largest growing segments for Internet users are adolescents.
They are 16-19 year old and represent 90 percent of new users (Nie, 2001). Since public access is questionable, this group uses home as their number one access point. (Hecht, 2000). Adults are purchasing computers because it is perceived to be a valuable addition to a child’s education and learning (Kiesler, 2000). Computers preloaded with ‘internet-ready’ software presented technical problems to family users, approximately 79 percent of the time. (Kiesler, 2000). Therefore, instead of removing barriers, Kiesler’s (2000) research has demonstrated that computers are not really a plug and pay phenomena. After the initial set-up, in their first year of use, 89 percent of new computer owners have needed external support to solve technical problems (Kiesler, 2002). If there is a teen in the household, it is more than likely the teenager will deal with support desks to resolve the issue (Kraut et al., 1998). Families may be encouraging teens to develop technical skills, as they have the time and ability to take on technical challenges (Kiesler, 2000). Interpersonally, the family dynamics may start to change whereas initially, the child did not have much influence in the purchase of the computer. Now the child becomes an influential person, possibly the ‘family guru’ within the family organization (Kiesler, 2000). The most common general use of the internet is communicating via e-mail. This is a timesaving device compared to letter writing and even phone calls.
The Internet readily allows people to spend both more time on the Internet and more time socializing (Nie, 2001). In effect, people are communicating over longer distances with acquaintances rather than with strangers. This strongly suggests that people relate to one another more but with less face to face interactions (Nie, 2001). Everyday experience shows that people use the internet to connect in different ways: to reinforce existing relations among family, friends, and co-workers. In addition, users from a lower socioeconomic class tend to use the Internet primarily for job searching (Nie, 2001) As the next generation becomes of age, businesses will require this generation to be a skilled workforce. In 1996, the Information Technology Association of America estimated there will be at least 346,000 vacancies for IT workers and concluded that a shortage would threaten not only the IT industry, but the entire U.S. economy (Testimony on.., 1998). Industry will be requiring our youth, not only to be technically savvy, but capable of displaying good judgement, while using interpersonal skills. The Internet has provided a technological freeway for people to communicate. The method of communication may be seen as remote or isolated by some scholars. However, the need to communicate with one another will not diminish over time. There will always be a need to share ideas, communicate problems, and suggest solutions, the internet does not remove this requirement. Albeit on a different level rather than face to face communication. The 21st century requires our youth to participate on new collaborations, use interpersonal skills, employ new methodologies for interactive communication and use different dimension, which is still currently evolving.
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