It seems counterintuitive to say that people want to experience some inconveniences when they are in a virtual world. People who are new to embarking on creative endeavors often make the mistake of attempting to make something too beautiful and perfect. The result is invariably the same: people cannot relate and, after marveling at the technical skill, quickly become disinterested. The same is true in life simulation video games that attempt to create a digital and stylized version of reality. A virtual world that is too perfect is unrealistic and the gameplay soon becomes boring. In order for players to feel that a game is realistic, the game world needs to have elements of imperfection in the form of small nuisances. When developers include real world obstacles and minor problems into a world simulating or sandbox game, they capture what we believe to be important experiences in our world and they also keep players engaged.
As soon as The Sims 3 first came out in 2009, people began demanding that the developers add weather into the simulated world. As The Sims Studio and Electronic Arts released expansion pack after expansion pack over the next three years, the demands became more forceful. People wanted weather above having awesome RPG-esque adventures in exotic locations (World Adventures), the opportunity to be self-employed (Ambitions), becoming famous and hang out with vampires (Late Night), having rich intergenerational communication (Generations), or even becoming fairies (Supernatural)! It is understandable that the developers wanted to manifest their fantastic concepts and see how they would affect the world of The Sims. It is less understandable why people were enthusiastic to such a degree about such a mundane thing as weather; however, I believe this desire speaks volumes about what makes a virtual world compelling and immersive.
Let us look at a bothersome situation that happened to me quite recently in the real world. This morning my plan was to get up really early to go grocery shopping and beat the crowds of people who like to hang out in the middle of the aisles and chat at my local Trader Joe’s. Although it was barely light outside, I could see from my window that ice had encased my car. Instead of melting completely by early morning, the ice remained. The park across the street was equally frozen and my heater was working overtime in an effort to counteract the cold. Looking at my car, I knew it would take about twenty minutes of scraping to clear the front and back windows. The prospect of leaving my apartment to confront the freeze that had occurred overnight seemed so utterly unpleasant that I abandoned my plan of going grocery shopping.
If this same situation occurred in a game, it would probably not be as frustrating, in fact, it might even be enjoyable. A fundamental difference between an inconvenience in the real world and a game world is that a person is not physically affected in the latter. For instance, if my umbrella breaks during a rainstorm and I am not able to get indoors immediately, I am going to become soaked and end up in a bad mood. Even more seriously, if my umbrella acts as a lightning rod, it will ruin more than just my day. However, the inconvenience of an umbrella breaking at an inopportune time, or acting as a lightning conductor, in a game world does not physically affect the player. Instead, these types of random unfortunate events make the game more realistic and more enjoyable for the player.
In games that attempt to simulate the real world, developers constantly face the obstacle of realism. In order to make a game feel realistic, the creators need be sensitive to what players believe are essential aspects of the world, and its physical laws, as well as their own lives. For example, although the gravity of Earth is essential to how we interact with our world, players do not seem terribly concerned by game characters whom this force does not constrain in the same way as it does us. A game does not have to attempt to identically replicate the real world in order to be immersive; instead, the game only needs to have enough similarities to the average human perceptual experience so it communicates through a visual language that a player can easily understand. Games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent may not perfectly replicate the average human’s visual experience; however, these games convey the way in which strong emotions affect perception.
The type of game dictates what aspects developers must ensure are realistic. In Baseball video games, creators must try to replicate how real athletes move and the general real world game mechanics. In First Person Shooter games, the developers must communicate the high emotional charge of the fights and story. Furthermore, they must also copy the look and feel of the weapons that the players use. If creators come up short, they can expect disgruntled customers and online mockery. In games that attempt to simulate normal life, those designing them must be attuned to what players consider defining features of their own lives. Rather sadly, most of us pay a lot of attention to our everyday hang-ups, misfortunes, and accidents. Therefore a strategic life simulation such as The Sims must contain inconveniences for the player, and his or her characters, such as: being late to work, breaking electronics, toilets overflowing, dirty laundry, and having to take the trash out.
A possible explanation for why people were so insistent that EA and The Sims Studio release an expansion pack for The Sims 3 that added weather is that it would offer an additional layer of reality, full of inconveniences and exciting variables, to the game. In The Sims 3: Seasons, players can experience the types of weather that accompany each season while engaging in season-specific activities such as building snowmen in the winter, swimming in the ocean in the summer, playing with leaves in the autumn, and picking flowers in the spring. The expansion pack also evokes the powerful feeling of nostalgia. Players can build snowmen, celebrate the PC version of Christmas with their in-game family, play in leaves, set off fireworks, fall in love on Valentine’s Day (or “Love Day”), and dress up for “Spooky Day” (aka. Halloween). People often have fond memories of these times of year, and would like to re-experience the pleasant feelings they have attached to them.
Another reason for why people subconsciously appreciate realistic in-game conveniences is that, if done well, they keep players engaged in the game world. After the initial novelty of a game wears off and a player has either lost ideas for what to do (in a sandbox or simulation game) or is no longer invested in the plot (see Meaning, Morality and Video Games: the enduring value of RPGs for how good games avoid this), the person may lose interest entirely and stop playing. One of the ways a game can overcome the possibility of a player becoming bored is by introducing surprises either in the plot or, in the case of The Sims, in the gameplay itself. A player will certainly become more engaged and attentive to their in-game activities if his or her plan is suddenly thwarted by a debilitating blizzard or a tempting summer festival with snow cones. When a player is surprised, temporarily stressed, or forced to rethink his or her plan, the person approaches the game with renewed enthusiasm and investment.
Although freezing mornings, allergies, and heat waves are annoying for us to experience, these types of disruptions are essential for creating and maintaining the realism of an immersive virtual world. These problems enable players to more fully buy into a game world because they are part of their own life experiences. Minor hang-ups such as needing to fix a stereo and remembering an umbrella are necessary in life simulating games because they help bridge the gap between the real world and the game world. To put it simply, what makes a virtual world realistic is that it communicates to us in a language that we understand. Even though our experiences are fundamentally different, we can all agree that being job-threateningly late to work after breaking your shower, contending with a zombie attack, and burning your breakfast (and half the kitchen), are all bad things and a game that captures the feeling of this hellish type of morning is doing something right.
 MIT Technology Review – http://www.technologyreview.com/news/407094/video-game-realism-shifts-into-high-gear/
- PC Review – ‘The Sims 3: Seasons’ (worthplaying.com)
- Open Worlds Aren’t Meant for Driving (Moving Pixels) (popmatters.com)
1. Focus Your Topic. Presumably, you already have an idea for your article in mind; however, it may not be specific enough to give your piece purpose and focus. For instance, my initial idea for this article was the nebulous concept of “giving advice on writing.” This idea is too open-ended to be either interesting or helpful. Instead, it is much more effective to focus your topic so that it can be expressed as a question. It is helpful to come up with a question that your article will answer because it allows you to figure out what about your original idea interested you in the first place. It will also prevent your piece from becoming off-topic because it will remind you that everything you say should relate back to your answer to that question.
2. Decide Your Organizational Structure. It will be much easier to think of how your article will come together after you have refined its driving idea, question, or thesis. If you are trying to explain to your readers how to do something, lists or step-by-step guides (such as this one) can be very effective. If you are arguing for or against a certain topic or simply explaining a concept, you can use the traditional essay structure of an introductory paragraph, several body paragraphs (one for each point), and a concluding paragraph.
3. Create a Working Title. If you are writing a list, the thesis or central idea is in the title because this is what informs the reader on the list’s topic. In a more traditional article, the title is a creative variation of your main idea. Obviously, it needs to refer to your specific topic of discussion lest it be misleading. In addition, it also needs to be interesting in order to make people want to read your article.
4. Write Your Introductory Paragraph. The introductory paragraph is, essentially, an expansion of your title. It should provide a roadmap of the concepts about which the reader will read. If the goal of the article is to argue a specific position, the opening paragraph should contain the driving point of your argument. This main point is your thesis and the most important part of your introduction. It can be one sentence, either the first or last, or it can be the entirety of the introduction. Either way, an effective thesis expresses your stance on the topic and how you are going to address it. The complexity of your topic dictates how clear and unambiguous your thesis statement must be. For instance, in “The Class We Are Leaving Behind” I discuss how lower-income people are effectively losing their speech rights through legislation and a lack of access to technology. Because I was pulling together and explaining several seemingly unrelated ideas, I had to clearly outline a skeletal version of the argument:
“The voter ID laws are a new way in which lower-income people are losing their ability to make themselves heard at the voting booth; but this is not the only way these people are losing their voice in the national conversation. These people are also the class least likely to have sufficient Internet access to enable them to express their political beliefs online. While the poor have speech rights, they are effectively shut out of online communication and the voting booth due to the stagnation of class mobility and a lack of adequate education.”
5. Write Informative Topic Sentences. The first sentences of paragraphs are arguably the most important sentences you will write. Whether it is the catchy sentence that begins your piece, or the phrase that lets the reader know that the article is almost done, topic sentences inform and orient readers as to what you will be discussing. Each paragraph should discuss one idea, or possibly two closely related ideas, and your first sentences should introduce the concepts being covered. It should also either allude to or directly state your position on that idea. After explaining the benefit of topic sentences, most people are easily able to utilize them; however, many times their sentences look like the following:
“I will now discuss the importance of topic sentences.”
Most topic sentences are not this bad; however, it captures the tendency that beginning or intermediate writers have of not actually communicating anything in their first sentences. Based on this sample sentence, we know that the writer is going to say something about topic sentences, but what that will be is unclear. It may be uncomfortable to take a stance, no matter how conciliatory or open-minded, but in order for the reader to want to continue reading, you must state your position in addition to introducing a topic.
6. Body Paragraphs. After writing your introduction and the topic sentence of your first paragraph, you have already written the hardest parts of the article. From here on out, it is a matter of endurance, focus, and patience. The body paragraphs are where you actually get to express how interesting and important your ideas are, so try to enjoy the process. Introduce one part or aspect of your main idea, which is in your thesis, provide an example if it is applicable, discuss how it relates to your primary topic, and provide a lead in to your next paragraph.
Ideally, your paragraphs should not be more than five sentences long. If they are longer, chances are that you began to veer away from what you introduced in your topic sentence. When this happens, find where you got sidetracked and see if what you wrote has value. If it does, simply press the “return/enter” key and make it its own paragraph and move on.
7. Build Upon Your Previous Points. Well-written articles are made up of paragraphs that relate to each other logically. Whether you are editing your article or in the middle of writing it, it is important to make sure that the last sentence of a paragraph not only pertains to its own paragraph, but also relates to the topic sentence of the next paragraph. This can be a bit tricky. When editing a piece I have written, I often see that although I express a great idea in one paragraph and a great one in the next, there is no relation between them.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, the question to ask yourself is, “what is the logical connection between these two points?” Most of the time, you will discover that you are missing a logical transition between your two points, which you can insert at the end of one paragraph or the beginning of the next. However, if you are unable to discern why one paragraph follows another, it may serve you to move one to a different part of your article and see if its purpose becomes clear.
8. Write A Conclusion. The biggest rule about writing conclusions is that a writer should not introduce any new ideas or additional information because doing so would confuse the reader. Typically, the conclusion is the place for you to rephrase your thesis and remind the reader of your key points. If you are feeling ambitious or inspired, you can also use the conclusion to explain, based on preceding paragraphs, why your topic has greater significance. This is not standard for academic writing; however, if you are writing a non-academic piece, putting your discussion into a broader context can answer the question: “So, why should I care about your article?”
Take a look at my conclusion in “The Class We Are Leaving Behind,” which attempts to answer that question:
“While its usefulness is evident, Internet access remains unaffordable, or effectively unusable, for many. The result is that a significant percentage of our population is not moving forward with us into the Digital Age. The Internet does not have placeholders for people who are not online and does not remind us that there are millions of people who could share their opinions and stories. Because of this, these people are at risk of becoming invisible to people online and to those in politics that are influenced by Internet communities. The fact is that the majority of men and women whom this article concerns are unable to read it, and this underscores the tragedy of America’s poor.”
9. Rewrite, Edit, Proofread. Congratulations! You wrote your first draft and are almost ready to share your article with the world. For many writers, the editing stage is where they hone their craft because it is there that they are able to devote their entire mind to improving the mechanics of their writing.
Although I could discuss the rules concerning the mechanics of writing and how to apply them to your article, it is more appropriate for me to refer you to the sources that improved my writing exponentially:
- Strunk & White/The Elements of Style – Arguably the book on the mechanics of writing. (Here is the pdf version)
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – Funny, inspirational, insightful, and infinitely helpful. (Here is the pdf version)
- Writers you know and respect – It is very helpful to have someone, preferably a professional writer or at least someone whose writing ability your respect, to look over your work and give you suggestions. Once you get over whatever bruising your ego sustains, you will see how much constructive feedback allows you to grow as a writer.
- Electronic readers – There is nothing better to improve the readability and flow of your article than to hear it read out loud to you. There are many text-to-speech programs that either come with your computer or can be purchased for very little or downloaded for free. (Advice from my father, a professional writer.)
10. Tweak Your Title and/or Introduction. By the time you have edited/rewritten your article and gone through it for typos, you may find that either your title or introduction is no longer reflective of your piece. If that is the case, go through your article again in order to reacquaint yourself with your key points and adjust your introduction to reflect them. Then, boil your thesis down into keywords and see if you can turn those into an interesting title.
For example, in my most recent article “Meaning, Morality, and Video Games: the enduring value of RPGs,” my thesis reduced down to the words: meaning, moral decisions, and RPGs. After seeing this, my final title came together.
I hope you find these steps helpful. Feel free to express your own advice, insights, and writing experiences in the “Comments” section below!
Note: A number of readers have asked me for writing advice since I began this blog and they inspired me to write this article. Many thanks to those who have asked for guidance and offered advice and kind words about my own writing. I wish all of you success in your writing endeavors.
I just wanted to let everyone know that I am taking a month-long hiatus from publishing articles. This month is promising to be pretty hectic with work and the various school-related things. I will still be commenting on posts and visiting blogs, but, unfortunately, my own writing has to take a backseat for a bit. If anything post-worthy comes out of this month, I will share it in the future.
Thank you for the inspiring questions you have asked, the discussions you have started, and the boundless support. I look forward to returning to sharing ideas with all of you next month. If anyone has writing or posts related to the topics about which I write, let me know and I would be happy to share your work here and give you full credit. People who come to my blog are incredibly good and smart, so your work would reach a very special audience.
Happy October and I’ll see you in November!
To the generation that grew up having access to the online world, the Internet seems an essential part of modern life that was simply destined to come into being. Because of this, it may come as a surprise to learn that the public almost did not get the Internet. For several decades, the only people who were able to use the pre-World Wide Web networks were in the military and in academia. This computer network was too expensive for the everyday person to afford, and the telecommunications companies resisted any attempts that the federal government made to extend funding to the private sector. However, despite this apparent impasse, the government, academia, and the early computer companies collaborated in a way unseen today in order to bring the Internet to the American public.
One of the earliest computer networks arose in the early 1970’s and was a series of connections between universities. Academics used this network, called the ARPANET, to share research within their own university and with other universities. In order to do so, they would transmit information electronically from primitive computers through AT&T’s underground telephone wires. The universities that had these connections benefitted immensely because they were connected to other research institutes. Furthermore, they also had the first supercomputers that attracted the top scientists from around the U.S.
A key drawback to this computer network was the exorbitant cost of leasing access to these wires. These leases cost thousands of dollars per month because the price depended on the amount of wire it took to connect two points. For example, two of the first universities to use the ARPANET were Michigan State University and Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University, which are 233 miles apart. In order to connect these two schools, they had to lease over 200 miles of underground telephone wire. Although the government provided funding for the universities to conduct research using this network, the money to build and use the infrastructure still had to come out of the schools’ coffers.
Part of the reason it cost universities so much money to lease these lines was due to the fact that AT&T was the only company that could provide this service reliably. It was the most established phone company at the time and easily established a monopoly, enabling it to charge what it pleased. Universities tried to mitigate costs by having other universities join their network. If two schools found another university located geographically between them, they could split the cost three ways and benefit from the added resources each school offered.
Through government grants and a larger network of connected universities, computer scientists were able to develop better and faster networks. It was not long before people outside of the government and academia started hearing about the concept of “the Internet” and wanted to have access to it. Connecting to the Internet was still incredibly expensive, but people within academia and the National Science Foundation (NSF) believed that it was important to connect the public to this growing network. They went to Congress and argued that the best way to ensure feasible access for the rest of the country would be through a federal spending initiative.
Unfortunately, AT&T’s lobbyists blocked the NSF’s attempts to create a network similar to the one we have today. The lobbyists objected to the federal government subsidizing Internet access for the public, claiming that by doing so the government would be interfering with the private sector. In order to get around this, universities requested the government only pay for connections between the universities. The lobbyists did not see this as much of a market, so they agreed. Although this was not a direct way to provide Internet access to the public, people in the government hoped that there would be a trickle-down effect.
Academia, the federal government and the public got their wish when a young company called MCI Communications Corp. challenged AT&T’s monopoly in 1974. As a result of extensive litigation, MCI broke this monopoly in 1980 and enabled the overhaul of telecommunications in 1996. Universities had been trying to get around the “academics only” policy regarding Internet access since 1990 by providing indirect access to the public. It was evident to lawmakers in the 90’s that the public wanted the Internet and that companies and universities would continue to work to provide Internet services to the public regardless of any obstacles. In order to fulfill the needs of the public and energize the communications market, the Clinton administration signed into law the Telecom Act of 1996.
By this time, networks had begun to spring up all over the world. Computer scientists from across the globe collaborated to create browsers, systems, and interfaces to make the Internet more user-friendly and useful. Everyday people began to meet each other through newsletters and email. Companies were able to reach distant markets and people experienced an ease of access to information that forever changed the way they related to the world. Around the globe, computers dialed up and the electronic crowing of modems heralded the dawning of the Internet Age.
Click here for Part 1.
Note: Liz’s blogging challenge at Eccentric inspired me to write this historical article on the Internet.
The majority of my research came from the Coursera course “Internet History, Technology, and Security.” It was a wonderful course taught by Dr. Charles Severance at the University of Michigan.
Do you have a favourite search engine that you depend on to return those must have research resources? If you are like the rest of the planet this favourite search engine happens to be Google. Nothing wrong with Google (actually there is) but if you conduct research on a regular basis it is good to remember that a lot of search engines utilize personal data caches stored on your computer.
It is well-known that when you see an iceberg in the ocean, you are only seeing about 10% of its total mass. The remaining 90% extends below the water’s surface reaching depths of 600 feet or more. The Internet is similar to an iceberg because only 10% of it is “visible” to most users. The part of the Web that is invisible to conventional search engines and is inaccessible through traditional browsers is called the “deep Web.” Like the depths of the ocean, the deep Web is a little known world that contains dazzling and shocking creations as well as vast swaths of emptiness.
The deep Web evades the notice of the majority of traditional search engines. Even though Google may seem ubiquitous and omnipotent when running a search that produces millions of results, it is unable to reach the majority of websites online. Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing, use Web crawler (or spider) programs that browse the Internet and copy pages that the search engine will later index and make accessible to users. The crawlers go through URLs and search for all the hyperlinks on web pages, adding them to their “crawl frontier” which maps out other websites and pages for them to index. Crawling the deep Web is a challenge for this type of software because it relies on normally shaped URLs and the presence of tags or text. Companies who operate the popular search engines have become aware of the shortcomings of crawlers and are looking for ways to improve them.
A significant reason why crawler software has such difficulty with the deep Web is because a portion of it is composed of dynamic pages that only exist when someone types a query into a database. This format makes it challenging for a person, let alone mindless software, to discover such pages. Some users report that the majority of the deep Web is in the form of these databases; however, this is merely speculative. The popular search engines are unable to index websites because they may have scripted content and thus appear dynamically (such as with Flash), or a non-HTML (standard) format. Websites can also choose to block crawlers by requiring users to login or implement other features such as CAPTCHAs.
People who access the deep Web have reported their findings on forums on the “surface Web” like explorers returning from strange countries. Their tales generally fall into one of three categories. The first group is those people who were unimpressed with their virtual excursion and claim that the deep Web is just a 1990’s version of the surface Web. People in the second group have ended up unintentionally gazing into the dark abyss of pedophiles, assassins, crime rings, human experimentation, etc. and warn everyone away from the deep Web. The third group is those people who have found truly interesting things such as scientific papers, discussion groups, e-books, blogs, and tech communities, and want to share these with those on the surface Web.
From having made forays into the deep Web, I can say that these impressions are all fairly accurate. Hunting around for deep websites can be a frustrating experience because many of the websites are frequently boring, badly scripted or unfinished. Furthermore, slow servers cause these sites to take up to ten minutes to load, which exacerbates the feelings of frustration. There are websites on the deep Web that are truly horrific and cater to the darker elements of our society and world. However, in order to avoid such sites, all a person has to do is take hyperlink descriptions seriously and resist clicking on those that seem too disturbing to be real. With enough persistence and caution, one can find a treasure trove of academic reference material, newspaper articles, maps, data engines and more.
The companies that own the popular search engines are aware of the untapped resources that the deep Web holds and are attempting to improve Web crawlers so they can access the hidden websites. Understandably, there are websites on the deep Web that do not want to appear on the surface Web because being visible in such a way would identify their owners and users. Like shining light into the darkness of the deep-sea, the entire ecosystem of the deep Web would change if it became accessible through Google. Perhaps the world would benefit from being able to easily access information on the deep Web, but at what cost?
For an answer to this question, stay tuned for the second part of “Diving the Deep Web.”
1) Spetka, Scott. “The TkWWW Robot: Beyond Browsing.” Wayback Machine. Internet
Archive, Sept. 2004. Web. 15 Sept. 2012.
- Exploring the Deep Web with Semantic Search [INFOGRAPHIC] (bostinno.com)
- The Deep Web: The Place Where the Internet’s Secrets Are (techpp.com)
The voter ID laws are a new way in which lower-income people are losing their ability to make themselves heard at the voting booth; but this is not the only way these people are losing their voice in the national conversation. These people are also the class least likely to have sufficient Internet access to enable them to express their political beliefs online. While the poor have speech rights, they are effectively shut out of online communication and the voting booth due to the stagnation of class mobility and a lack of adequate education.
Since the beginning of 2011, 14 states have passed restrictive voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud. These laws have cut early voting days, and require would-be voters to have proof of citizenship (such as birth certificates) to register, and to show government-issued photo IDs before casting their votes. Eight of the twelve swing states have either passed voter legislation or are in the process of doing so (3).
These laws pose significant obstacles to young people and, even more so, to minority groups in this upcoming presidential election. The Black Youth Project estimates that about 25 percent of African-Americans do not have the required identification, and depend on early voter days (1)(2). The result of these laws is students, elderly people, racial minority groups and the entire lower socioeconomic class may not be able to express their voices at the polls in pivotal states.
Many journalists and bloggers have made the point that this legislation is not necessary because documented in-person voter fraud, which these laws seek to prevent, has occurred only ten times over the last twelve years (4). However, I have yet to see the people who these laws directly affect express themselves in the blogosphere or on political forums. Why have we not heard from these people?
The likely answer is that the people who make up the lower-income brackets are not online because they have not mastered Internet technology in such a way that they are able to engage in political discourse, the core of their First Amendment rights (5). This disadvantage arises out of a lack of sufficient education and the stagnation of class mobility. These two factors work together to keep people of all races and ages stuck in the lowest socioeconomic tier and on the bad side of the “Digital Divide” (7).
Across the U.S., states have cut funding to public K-12 schools. Although schools located in affluent suburban areas are able to raise funds to make up for the budget cuts, those in densely packed urban areas are unable to do so. Inner city public schools frequently have overcrowded classrooms, out-of-date textbooks, not enough textbooks, and severely limited library and computer facilities. In addition, students and teachers must contend with the social issues plaguing the urban poor such as high unemployment, gang violence and drug use. Because of these factors, it is understandable that it is difficult for students at these schools to receive an equivalent education to those who go to school in wealthier areas. This is probably not new information to most people; however, the consequences of inadequate educational opportunities may be surprising. According to the U.S. Department of Education, as of 2003, about 44 million adults in the U.S. had literacy skills ranging from illiteracy to very limited literacy (10). Since then, the percentage of adults lacking sufficient literacy skills continues to hover around 23-24% (7)(9).
Although it seems painfully obvious to point out, it is worth highlighting the fact that in order to use the Internet for anything other than basic entertainment, a person needs to be able to read. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between a person’s literacy level and the complexity of tasks he or she perform online (5). For instance, a person with a high literacy level would be able to write a blog and engage in political discussions, whereas a person with a low literacy level may have difficulty finding information online. There is a threshold of reading ability and technological familiarity that a person has to meet in order to make use of the Internet in such a way to be able to improve his or her socioeconomic standing. People who have not been able to achieve a proficient level of literacy or a sufficient familiarity with computers and the Internet are, in effect, shut off from resources in the online world that could improve their lives. Furthermore, these people’s plights go largely unheard because they are not able to use the Internet, the most efficient tool for communicating to a mass audience (13).
In addition to lacking sufficient reading and writing abilities to express their voices online, this disadvantaged class may be unable to afford Internet access. Lack of education and inability to afford access can be seen as two sides of the same coin because there is a relationship between a person’s literacy level and his or her income bracket. It is very unlikely that someone with below basic literacy skills would be qualified for a job earning enough to afford good access to the Internet. Generally speaking, the higher paying jobs require education beyond high school or even college. A person who does not receive sufficient education that teaches him or her to read, write and process information is less likely to be able to go to college.
This is not to say that there are not people who are able to start society-altering businesses and earn staggering amounts of money without going to or completing college. Indeed, we like to hold up people such as Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the first billionaire John D. Rockefeller Sr. (a high school dropout) as examples to counter the opinion that if a person wants to be successful, he or she has to get a college degree. However, these people are the exception rather than the norm and a few outliers are not enough to counter numerous studies that show a direct connection between a person’s level of education and his or her annual income (11)(12).
The “Digital Divide” is the result of a class that does not have enough money or education to join the online world. To put it simply, this divide is between those who can afford and make effective use of the Internet, and those who cannot. The Internet is different from other modern technological developments because it “fundamentally alters the conditions for success across a wide range of economic, social and civic activities at both the individual and societal levels” (5). As an Internet user, you can appreciate the ease with which you are able to search for jobs, create a blog to share your ideas, and use it to run a business more efficiently. Since higher income people are more able to afford Internet access, they will be more likely to have it than those who are lower-income. The result of this is that people who cannot afford to be online and cannot effectively use the Internet simply do not exist in that world. Their businesses do not have the benefit of being online, they have greater difficulty finding jobs, and they are unable to voice their experiences to the online community.
The Covad Broadband Entrepreneur program demonstrates how the Internet is able to improve class mobility. This program provides low-income and disadvantaged small business owners a year of free Internet services as well as $500. The success that the business owners report after one year is striking. During this year, they were able to easily communicate with customers and process orders online, which increased customer satisfaction, profit and allowed owners to expand to different markets in other states. Having Internet access allowed a number of small business owners to make enough money to no longer qualify as low-income. Furthermore, it allowed other business owners to take online classes to earn certificates to improve their trades and make them more competitive (7). The results of this program tell us that if two new family run drug stores, one with Internet access and the other without, open in the same neighborhood, chances are that the one that is connected to the online world will be more successful.
While its usefulness is evident, Internet access remains unaffordable, or effectively unusable, for many. The result is that a significant percentage of our population is not moving forward with us into the Digital Age. The Internet does not have placeholders for people who are not online and does not remind us that there are millions of people who could share their opinions and stories. Because of this, these people are at risk of becoming invisible to people online and to those in politics that are influenced by Internet communities. The fact is that the majority of men and women whom this article concerns are unable to read it, and this underscores the tragedy of America’s poor.
Author’s Note: Big thank you to José Felipe at Creando Conciencia for encouraging me to write about this topic and also Liz at Eccentric for all her support, advice and input. This article also appears on ABetterPeople.com.
(5) Cooper, Mark, and Donald McGannon Center for Communications Research, Fordham Univeristy. “The Socio-Economics of Digital Exclusion in America.” 2010 TPRC: 38th Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy. Arlington, Virginia. 3 october 2010. Reading.
(6) Prieger, James E. and Hu, Wei-Min, “The Broadband Digital Divide and the Nexus of Race, Competition, and Quality” (August 17, 2007). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1008309 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1008309
(7) Baynes, Leonard M., ‘The Mercedes Divide?’: American Segregation Shapes the Color of Electronic Commerce. Western New England Law Review, Vol. 29, No. 1, November 2006; St. John’s Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-0047. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=923564
(8) Oliff, Phil, and Michael Leachman. “New School Year Bring Steep Cuts in State Funding for Schools.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. DC: n.p., 2011. 1-16. Print.
(9) Hattyar, Harry. Illiteracy in America: Understanding and Resolving a Grave National Problem. San Francisco: Donpotter.net, 2005. Print.
(10) National Center for Education Statistics. “Adult Literacy in America: A First Look at the Findings of the National Adult Literacy Survey.” U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement. By Irwin Kirsch, Ann Jungeblut, Lynn Jenkins, and Andrew Kolstad. 3rd ed. Vols. 1993-275. N.p.: NCES, 2002. 1-176. Print
WordPress recently featured my article “What/Who is Anonymous?” on Freshly Pressed and I have received an influx of new followers who have been unbelievably supportive and intelligent. The comments they wrote were thought-provoking, insightful and very kind. It was an honor to have my article chosen and it was humbling to have so many great bloggers/people/writers take the time to offer their input and appreciation. If you are new to following or reading Cybernid, check out the “About the Blog” page for a brief description of the blog as well as my loose Comment Policy. Also, if you have interest in who I am, check out the “About Rebecca” page.
Because so many smart and articulate people have taken the time to comment, I would be interested in any suggestions you have regarding topics about which you would like me to write. To give you an idea of the topics about which I am considering writing, here is a short list:
- Hive minds on the Internet
- Socioeconomic inequality on the Internet
- The StarCraft 2 community
- Corporate hive minds
- Identity on the Internet
If you would be interested in reading about any of these, I would love to know. Also, conversely, if there is anything on the list that you find repugnant, I would also like to know. Most importantly, if there is anything else about which you would like to read, let me know in any way you feel comfortable (Twitter, email or comments). If you do suggest a topic and I write about it, I will prominently credit you in the post and link to your blog or website. I will also be announcing the topics of upcoming articles on Twitter, so if you have a opinions or information regarding the topics and I include them, I will credit and quote you (if you are comfortable with that).
Thank you for making blogging such a positive experience.