A few weeks ago, the nation's consumer affairs folks released a list of the
top Internet scams. But since they forgot to mention one of my favorites,
I'll use this month's column to explain it to you.
This scam involves the "Digital Divide." For years, we have been
African Americans are begin left out of the technology revolution, that the
tremendous wealth created by the New Economy is bypassing minority
communities. Now, after billions of dollars spent in a so-called national
effort, we are seeing reports claiming that the Digital Divide is beginning
to narrow, that Blacks are gaining in computer ownership, and more of us are
getting online than ever before. We have done our job, these reports seem to
say: soon every kid will have a computer right next to his or her
Now, I've been called a lot of things, but never the Rip Van Winkle of the
minority technology empowerment effort. But that's who I would have to be to
take any comfort from these reports.
The folks promoting this nonsense -- I call them "tricknologists" --
high-tech equivalent of the three-card monty dealers you see on street
corners. You know the game: they get you to follow one card, and all the
while the real action is happening somewhere else. Well, that's exactly what
the New Age tricknologists are doing with the Digital Divide debate.
The trick is simple: the first step is narrowing the definition of the
Digital Divide, by saying that computer ownership and Internet usage are
how we measure minority participation in the new, high-tech economy. In fact,
all these statistics prove is that minorities are closing the gap in being
consumers of technology, not in being producers or equal partners.
For most people, the computer and the Internet are becoming the new
"Millennium Edition" of the television set. Saying that the Digital
is closing because minorities have greater access to them is like saying
minorities have a stake in the automobile industry because they drive cars,
or that they are Bill Gates because they own Microsoft Office 2000.
The truth is that the Digital Gap is widening. African Americans in
ever-greater numbers are being cut out of the greatest economic growth spurt in
the history of the world. While everyone else rakes in the benefits right in
front of us, we have our heads turned behind us. The tricknologists have us
thinking that on is off and up is down. And, if we're not careful, by the time
we figure the whole thing out, the only things left for us will be jobs
flipping computer- inventoried hamburgers at fast-food restaurants or
cleaning out test tubes at high-tech labs.
Measuring the real Digital Divide means looking at many factors, including:
- Quality of Internet connections in our communities
- Quality of Internet content and its relevance to us
- Computer literacy rate and level of computer skills among African
- Employability and employment rate of Blacks in technical jobs
- Representation of African Americans as owners of high-tech enterprises
The tricknologists would love to have us focus all of our energy on putting
computers into every school, to guarantee them another generation of
technology consumers. But the real issue for the African-American community is
how to use technology to become technology innovators and producers.
Until we produce just as many high-tech billionaires as Silicon Valley does,
and until we fill the ranks of the high-tech work force with as great a
percentage of us as you see on the basketball court, closing the Digital
Divide will be just another way for us to spend our dollars.