[Marxism] Black use of Internet increases

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 31 07:47:28 MST 2006


NY Times, March 31, 2006
Blacks Turn to Internet Highway, and Digital Divide Starts to Close
By MICHEL MARRIOTT

African-Americans are steadily gaining access to and ease with the 
Internet, signaling a remarkable closing of the "digital divide" that many 
experts had worried would be a crippling disadvantage in achieving success.

Civil rights leaders, educators and national policy makers warned for years 
that the Internet was bypassing blacks and some Hispanics as whites and 
Asian-Americans were rapidly increasing their use of it.

But the falling price of laptops, more computers in public schools and 
libraries and the newest generation of cellphones and hand-held devices 
that connect to the Internet have all contributed to closing the divide, 
Internet experts say.

Another powerful influence in attracting blacks and other minorities to the 
Internet has been the explosive evolution of the Internet itself, once 
mostly a tool used by researchers, which has become a cultural crossroad of 
work, play and social interaction.

Studies and mounting anecdotal evidence now suggest that blacks, even some 
of those at the lower end of the economic scale, are making significant 
gains. As a result, organizations that serve African-Americans, as well as 
companies seeking their business, are increasingly turning to the Internet 
to reach out to them.

"What digital divide?" Magic Johnson, the basketball legend, asked 
rhetorically in an interview about his new Internet campaign deal with the 
Ford Motor Company's Lincoln Mercury division to use the Internet to 
promote cars to black prospective buyers.

The sharpest growth in Internet access and use is among young people. But 
blacks and other members of minorities of various ages are also merging 
onto the digital information highway as never before.

According to a Pew national survey of people 18 and older, completed in 
February, 74 percent of whites go online, 61 percent of African-Americans 
do and 80 percent of English-speaking Hispanic-Americans report using the 
Internet. The survey did not look at non-English-speaking Hispanics, who 
some experts believe are not gaining access to the Internet in large numbers.

In a similar Pew survey in 1998, just 42 percent of white American adults 
said they used the Internet while only 23 percent of African-American 
adults did so. Forty percent of English-speaking Hispanic-Americans said 
they used the Internet.

Despite the dissolving gap, some groups like the Intel Computer Clubhouse 
Network, which introduces digital technologies to young people, say the 
digital divide is still vast in more subtle ways. Instant messaging and 
downloading music is one thing, said Marlon Orozco, program manager at the 
network's Boston clubhouse, but he would like to see black and Hispanic 
teenagers use the Internet in more challenging ways, like building virtual 
communities or promoting their businesses.

Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 
which has studied Internet use by race, ethnicity and age, cautioned that a 
new dimension of the digital divide might be opening because groups that 
were newer to the Internet tended to use less-advanced hardware and had 
slower connection speeds.

"The type and meaningful quality of access is, in some ways, a more 
challenging divide that remains," Ms. Rideout said. "This has an impact on 
things like homework."

In addition, Internet access solely at institutions can put students at a 
disadvantage. Schools and other institutions seldom operate round the 
clock, seven days a week, which is especially an issue for students, said 
Andy Carvin, coordinator for the Digital Divide Network, an international 
group that seeks to close the gap.

But not everyone agrees that minorities tend toward less-advanced use of 
the Internet. Pippa Norris, a lecturer on comparative politics at Harvard 
who has written extensively about the digital divide, said members of 
minorities had been shown to use the Internet to search for jobs and to 
connect to a wide variety of educational opportunities.

"The simple assumption that the Internet is a luxury is being disputed by 
this group," Ms. Norris said.

The divide was considered so dire a decade ago that scholars, 
philanthropists and even President Bill Clinton in his 1996 State of the 
Union address fretted over just what the gap would mean in lost educational 
and employment opportunities for young people who were not wired.

In an effort to help erase the divide, the federal government has provided 
low-cost connections for schools, libraries, hospitals and health clinics, 
allocated money to expand in-home access to computers and the Internet for 
low-income families and given tax incentives to companies donating computer 
and technical training and for sponsoring community learning centers.

As a result of such efforts, "most kids, almost all kids, have a place in 
which they can go online and have gone online," said Ms. Rideout of the 
Kaiser foundation.

Jason Jordan of Boston is one of the young people closing the divide. 
Jason, 17, who is black, is getting a used computer from an older brother. 
He said he had wanted a computer for years, since "I heard about a lot that 
I was missing."

Jason said he had access to the Internet at school, where he is pursuing a 
general equivalency diploma, but looked forward to having his own computer 
and Web access at his home in the Dorchester section of Boston. "I can work 
in my own place and don't have to worry about the time I'm online," he said.

Like Jason, almost 9 out of 10 of the 21 million Americans ages 12 to 17 
use the Internet, according to a report issued in July by the Pew Internet 
and American Life Project. Of them, 87 percent of white teenagers say they 
use the Internet, while 77 percent of black teenagers and 89 percent of 
Hispanic teenagers say they have access to it, the report said.

The gap in access among young Americans is less pronounced than among their 
parents' generation, said Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew 
project. "Age continues to be a strong predictor for Internet use," Ms. Fox 
said.

While, overall Internet use among blacks still significantly trails use 
among whites, the shrinking divide is most vividly reflected in the online 
experience of people like Billy and Barbara Johnson. Less than two years 
ago, the Johnsons, who are black, plugged into the Internet in their 
upscale suburban home near Atlanta for the first time. Mrs. Johnson, a 
52-year-old mother of four and homemaker, said she felt she had little 
choice because her school-age children needed to use the Internet for research.

And then there is e-mail. "No one really wants to take the time anymore to 
pick up the phone and keep in touch," lamented Mrs. Johnson, who said that 
so much of the communications with her children's school was done through 
e-mail correspondence. "I felt like I was pretty much forced into it."

Even so, Mrs. Johnson said her husband, an assistant coach for the Atlanta 
Falcons, still chided her when she neglected to check her e-mail at least 
every day.

Ms. Norris and other experts on Internet use see progress on the horizon. 
They note that the declining cost of laptop and other computers, and 
efforts, like those in Philadelphia, to provide low-cost wireless Internet 
access, are likely to increase online access for groups that have been slow 
to connect.

Philanthropic efforts have also helped to give more people Internet access. 
For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $250 million 
since 1997 for American public libraries to create Internet access for the 
public. Martha Choe, the foundation's director of global libraries, said 
some 47,000 computers had been bought for 11,000 libraries. Today, Ms. Choe 
said, most libraries in the United States have public Internet access.

Education levels remain a major indicator of who is among the 137 million 
Americans using the Internet and who is not, said Ms. Fox.

There is also a strong correlation, experts say, between household income 
and Internet access.

With so many more members of minorities online, some Web sites are trying 
to capitalize on their new access. For example, the New York/New Jersey 
region of the State of the African American Male, a national initiative to 
improve conditions for black men, is encouraging men to use digital 
equipment to "empower themselves" to better their lives. The site, which 
includes studies, public policy reports and other information about issues 
related to black men, promotes using digital cameras, mobile phones and 
iPods, but mainly computers, to organize through the Internet, said Walter 
Fields, vice president for government relations for the Community Service 
Society, an antipoverty organization, and a coordinator of the black-male 
initiative. Users are encouraged to submit articles, write blogs and upload 
pertinent photographs and video clips.

"What we're doing is playing against the popular notion of a digital 
divide," Mr. Fields said. "I always felt that it was a misnomer."

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