The Digital Boys Club

Newt Gingrich’s cynical lip service to techno-democracy not
withstanding, it seems the demographics of the Internet are slowly
changing, though the possibility of true diversity online is pretty
far off.

According to a recent
Census Bureau
report, 62 percent of the richest 25 percent of US households have
home computers compared to a measly 6.8 percent of the poorest 25
percent of US households. The divide splits right down racial lines
as well: for Asians and Pacific Islanders, 36 percent of households
have computers; whites 28 percent; Latinos 12 percent; and
African-Americans 9.5 percent. But amidst all of this division,
it’s encouraging to note that the Internet gender gap has
substantially narrowed in the last year: Studies by Matrix and SRI
put the percentage of women online at around 30 percent of users,
up from 20 percent just a year ago.

Commenting on these statistics in a

to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication this past August, Adam Clayton Powell, III of the
Freedom Forum Media Studies Center predicted that cheaper, more
powerful computers will soon infiltrate all segments of society,
just as the now ubiquitious television set did 30 years ago. The
real issue at stake in the gap between the information rich and
poor, according to Powell, is education. Without it the
interactivity so hyped by multimedia developers and Internet
profiteers will remain the privilege of the few who possess the
know-how to produce content.

Powell believes cyberspace will eventually reflect the diversity
of US society only if marginalized groups create content for the
diverse audience that will eventually arrive there. But it’s going
to take more than Powell’s amorphous vision to get around the nitty
gritty barriers to universal access. Organizations like the
Society for Electronic Access and
Computer Professionals for Social
, among others, are strategizing how to
redistribute info-tech wealth, and grassroots initiatives are
sprouting all the time. One promising development is Access for
All, a coalition of community television and radio producers, media
art centers, public computer networks, and public library
advocates. The group, in conjuction with the Independent Film
& Video Monthly
, is planning a series of public forums on
new technologies

Original to Utne Reader Online, September

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