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Ethnographic Interviews on the Digital Divide
Unformatted Document Text:  Ethnographic Interviews 22 lodging its explanation in the appealing, if also often socially debilitating, language of individual choice. Computers, access to computers, and a knowledge of how to tap their potential as contemporary American society’s primary - and ultimately hegemonic - means of educational consumption may indeed be necessary to "get ahead," some of our interviewees clearly say. And, they say further that if computers, access, and technological experience and know-how are indeed necessary for advancement (or even to "tread water"), it may well be that society as a whole should assume responsiblity in making sure that all of us are fairly positioned vis-a-vis our (post)modern means of information consumption, the computer. We see precisely this sort of recognition in the single mothers’ contradictory responses to questions about the digital divide. Yet the faint traces of an emerging "third language" threaten to be swallowed up by the seemingly contradictory, but in fact deeply symbiotic rhetoric of the computer as first and foremost a vehicle for the consumption of [information and knowledge as well as] entertainment and "frivolous" consumer goods. In other words, there exists a complex complicity in the rhetoric of computers as educational tools and the rhetoric of computers as luxury items for consumer choice. Selling the computer as techno-educational panacea positions corporate information technology giants such as Microsoft as fundamentally aiding a socially progressive project that seeks the enhanced life experiences of all in society. Yet pitching computers at the same time as primarily if not exclusively instruments for individual entertainment tends to absolve both corporate computer giants and government of any significant responsibility for providing access to computer technology and knowledge. This Janus-faced "sales pitch" allows information technology giants (as well

Authors: Clark, Lynn., Demont-Heinrich, Christof. and Webber, Scott.
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Ethnographic Interviews 22
lodging its explanation in the appealing, if also often socially debilitating, language of
individual choice.
Computers, access to computers, and a knowledge of how to tap their potential as
contemporary American society’s primary - and ultimately hegemonic - means of
educational consumption may indeed be necessary to "get ahead," some of our
interviewees clearly say. And, they say further that if computers, access, and
technological experience and know-how are indeed necessary for advancement (or even
to "tread water"), it may well be that society as a whole should assume responsiblity in
making sure that all of us are fairly positioned vis-a-vis our (post)modern means of
information consumption, the computer. We see precisely this sort of recognition in the
single mothers’ contradictory responses to questions about the digital divide. Yet the faint
traces of an emerging "third language" threaten to be swallowed up by the seemingly
contradictory, but in fact deeply symbiotic rhetoric of the computer as first and foremost
a vehicle for the consumption of [information and knowledge as well as] entertainment
and "frivolous" consumer goods. In other words, there exists a complex complicity in the
rhetoric of computers as educational tools and the rhetoric of computers as luxury items
for consumer choice. Selling the computer as techno-educational panacea positions
corporate information technology giants such as Microsoft as fundamentally aiding a
socially progressive project that seeks the enhanced life experiences of all in society. Yet
pitching computers at the same time as primarily if not exclusively instruments for
individual entertainment tends to absolve both corporate computer giants and government
of any significant responsibility for providing access to computer technology and
knowledge. This Janus-faced "sales pitch" allows information technology giants (as well


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