Minority digital use needs new direction
By Yolanda Young
For too many years, blacks have spent more time watching television than any other group. So, I guess it was just a matter of time before blacks took a similar ignominious role in the new digital age.
While blacks (54%) and Hispanics (51%) have less access to the Internet than all Americans (66%) from computers at home, these two groups use their mobile phones more than whites to access the Internet, visit social media sites, and send e-mails and text messages, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. And the concern is that these devices are being used more for entertainment than for educational purposes.
The issue has led the Federal Communications Commission to consider a $200 million proposal that would send trainers to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of public schools and libraries to teach constructive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers. This fall Connect2Compete, a non-profit supported by groups such as Microsoft and Goodwill, is also getting into the act by working with the Boys and Girls Club and 4-H and other organizations to teach word processing, keyboard functionality and online job searching.
Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, has studied the negative impact of television and other digital devices on students. In an essay, he said his research found that “black and Hispanic students reported less leisure reading at home compared with whites, watched television more … and (perhaps as a consequence) were more prone to become sleepy at school.”
Ferguson has been calling for integrating the type of training proposed by the FCC into our national education strategy, which should be aimed not only at minorities but at the poor as well. The FCC notes that only 40% of households with less than $20,000 in annual income have access to the Internet at home. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that students whose parents never attended college spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children with educated parents. Vicky Rideout, the study’s author, calls this “the time-wasting gap.”
Parents, churches, businesses and neighborhood organizations should work together to teach young people how to use technology not just for entertainment but also for education.
Yolanda Young is based in Washington, D.C., and is the founder of www.onbeingablacklawyer.com.