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Ethnographic Interviews on the Digital Divide
Unformatted Document Text:  Ethnographic Interviews 23 as other media industry giants) to tout the educational benefits of computers and computer technology at the same time they create an ever growing market of consumers for their products. In essence, corporations that market computers are able to get it both ways. At the same time, persons of lesser economic means have seemingly no choice but to at least partially buy into the view that computers are an important aspect of socio- economic advancement. “Buying in” to this rhetoric is of little benefit to most of them, however. Socio-economic class divisions do not disappear because of the computer, a recognition evidenced in the “third language” we observed among some of our research participants. Computer use, as Slevin (2000) has noted, is inevitably related to the political and economic organization of society. Forces of globalization and change, as well as policies that directly govern technological development, invariably shape individual experiences of the world and its technologies. While computers and the online environment were once envisioned primarily as educational tools that held out the possibility for increased self-governance, it is no longer possible to consider these goals separately from their uses as devices of consumption and leisure. As many of the people interviewed recognized, it is impossible to legislate use of computers and thus to eliminate the ways in which most people choose to use them. Based on the fact that the technology has been able to develop according to the prerogatives of the market, it is also difficult to envision how further development of the technology might be managed so as to encourage desired educational and civic uses rather than enhanced leisure-oriented consumption. This situation sets up several dilemmas for policymakers faced with decisions regarding digital divide programs. Policymakers and others concerned with the digital

Authors: Clark, Lynn., Demont-Heinrich, Christof. and Webber, Scott.
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Ethnographic Interviews 23
as other media industry giants) to tout the educational benefits of computers and
computer technology at the same time they create an ever growing market of consumers
for their products. In essence, corporations that market computers are able to get it both
ways. At the same time, persons of lesser economic means have seemingly no choice but
to at least partially buy into the view that computers are an important aspect of socio-
economic advancement. “Buying in” to this rhetoric is of little benefit to most of them,
however. Socio-economic class divisions do not disappear because of the computer, a
recognition evidenced in the “third language” we observed among some of our research
participants.
Computer use, as Slevin (2000) has noted, is inevitably related to the political and
economic organization of society. Forces of globalization and change, as well as policies
that directly govern technological development, invariably shape individual experiences
of the world and its technologies. While computers and the online environment were
once envisioned primarily as educational tools that held out the possibility for increased
self-governance, it is no longer possible to consider these goals separately from their uses
as devices of consumption and leisure. As many of the people interviewed recognized, it
is impossible to legislate use of computers and thus to eliminate the ways in which most
people choose to use them. Based on the fact that the technology has been able to
develop according to the prerogatives of the market, it is also difficult to envision how
further development of the technology might be managed so as to encourage desired
educational and civic uses rather than enhanced leisure-oriented consumption.
This situation sets up several dilemmas for policymakers faced with decisions
regarding digital divide programs. Policymakers and others concerned with the digital


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