Economic and Social Darwinism take a new form
According to an article in USA Today, the city of Houston is about to enter into a program that will provide free e-mail and free use of personal computers to its 3 million area residents. Another city is talking about providing free voice-mail service for the poor.
Why this investment of tax dollars? Because we are quickly becoming a world of information “haves” and information “have-nots.” Some pundits refer to this as the “Digital Divide.” The “digital” refers to the technology involved and I won’t try to explain that.
But we all need to understand the “divide” part because it is becoming a serious social and economic problem. Let’s deal with the economic problem first:
More and more, employers are looking for prospective employees who can submit their resumes over the Internet. That requires access to a PC and the Internet by a job-seekers, or at least access via friends, relatives or current co-workers, Many employers want to hire employees who can actually use a PC to find information via the Internet and who can communicate via e-mail. If America is to be the land of the hand-up, rather than the hand-out, the communications playing field needs some leveling.
More and more businesses are operating at the speed of light rather than the “snailmail” pace of the U.S. Postal Service or even the much-faster private, overnight package carriers such as FedEx or UPA or Airborne. With a valid credit card and Internet access, virtually any business transaction can be done via the Internet.
Over the last two months, we have attended a number of booksignings for our recently released novel. In every case but one, the bookstore hosting the event had Internet access and used a credit card to order the books. The ordering and delivery process worked to perfection. But one bookseller used neither the Internet nor a credit card. That order was totally messed up and the bookstore is still looking for its shipment of books.
But, because of an unwillingness to gain access to the Internet, even people with good incomes and good educations are being separated from other people with good incomes and good educations. Some people feel they are too old to try something new. Others simply don’t understand what Internet access can do for them in terms of improving their business and in terms of improving their interpersonal communications with friends and family.
Just as American society has divided between smokers and non-smokers in recent years, the digital divide is showing us another form of Social Darwinism. For example, most families, whether they realize it not, maintain an “A” list of people whom they invite into their homes. Over the last 30 years, we have noticed that friends who smoke have been dropped from our “A” list. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened over time.
Now, we are beginning to notice how much greater contact we have with friends who can do e-mail and how less frequently we come in contact with friends who do not do e-mail. Again, it isn’t intentional. It is just happening that way.
Actually, e-mail has widened the circle of our friends on this continent and increased our contacts with those whom we knew long ago when we lived in Europe. Therefore, e-mail is a net plus in terms of the number of friends with whom we stay in contact.
But because there are only so many hours in the day and one can only be involved in a rather finite amount of social interaction, we find we are communicating more and more with more people overall while, at the same time, communicating less and less with friends who are still on the other side of the digital divide. It is not that we like them less, we just find it so easy, fast and convenient to communicate with friends who can do e-mail. Hopefully, they will figure out how easy it is to cross the digital divide.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn.
©2001. William Hamilton.