The “Time Wasting Divide”: Digital Literacy Opens Opportunities for Low-Income Families

As more low-income families get access to devices and the digital divide closes, an unexpected side effect is left in its wake. The outcry for equal access to technology and Broadband is being answered, however, instructions for how, when, why to use technology aren’t included. This is causing a problem in low-income families — the families who are supposed to be helped by closing the digital divide — as the younger members use their new gadgets for entertainment, not as an educational resource.

According to the New York Times article, “Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era,” children of parents who don’t have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day with media. The problem does carry over into families with more educated parents with kids spending 10 hours of multimedia a day. However, the concern is that low-income parents are especially at a disadvantage when they try to put parameters on their children’s gadget time because they don’t have personal experience with the delights and dangers of the digital age.

What can be done to close the new “time wasting divide”? The Federal Communications Commission is working on a $200 million proposal to create a digital literacy corps to send hundreds or thousands of trainers into the community to educate parents, students, and job seekers on computer best practices, according to the Times article. Some libraries also offer basic computer skills that help adults create documents, email, and look for employment.

Digital literacy can empower people to search and create jobs; take online courses to earn their GED, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s; and find their place in the 21st Century. A recent Huffington Post article highlighted the new grad Christina Mercado who graduated from Georgetown University with a master’s in business administration and no job offers. As a stress reliever, she started painting and came up with a character that soon snowballed into an entire picture book. Using her marketing background, she started a campaign to raise money online and self-published. Her book is going to hardcover soon and she was able to use her experience to land her current job in her field. Opportunities like Mercado’s were afforded to her because of her level of education and her knowledge of the reach of technology. Imagine the jobs low-income families could create for themselves if given the opportunity to see technology for its innovative possibilities, instead of its entertaining qualities.

Technology is a tool that comes with responsibility. Digital access must be a right to give equal education and job opportunities, but it also must come with knowledge of how to use it for it to have a positive effect. Libraries can be the new agents of change, creating opportunity and access for low income families. Watch a recent video by the Gates Foundation on how libraries are making sure digital access comes with digital know-how.

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