When I was eight, I won our school’s “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” throw down. I scoured the neighborhood for hours, wheedling coins and Snickers bars out of polite neighbors and adding them to my little orange box. By the end of the night, the hoard of pennies and nickels had broken the box at the seams, and I presented it to my teacher wrapped in a sustaining nest of duct tape.
The reward for all of this was a trip to UNICEF headquarters. Somewhere in my parent’s house there sits a billfold stuffed full of pictures of the wall art, the cafeteria, the library– all of the things that as a child I found interesting. At eight, I understood that UNICEF were the good guys, that they fought AIDS and built wells, and that they were kind of like the non-mouse version of the Rescue Aid Society.
But beyond saving Penny from Madame Medusa, UNICEF strives to help children and mothers in all aspects of their lives, including the digital.
CC Licensed Image via Google.
Techbrarian Confession Time: I really, really, really want to try Google Glass. Back in February, when they were choosing betas to “give” them to (read: offering folks with a compelling enough reason the chance to fork over $1,500), I threw my ring into the hat and prayed my mother would never find out I was willing to pay that kind of money to covertly cosplay as Georgi La Forge and freak people out in public places.
Half-mad with tech-lust, I pulled the “I’m an educator– you guys love us, right?” card: “I’d find the ABSOLUTE BEST educational use for them,” I wheedled, lying through my lying little teeth. “I’d teach with them on and integrate them into my classroom work.”
(Lies. Deceitful, awful lies.)
Shockingly, Google saw through this facade, and the closest I’ve come to Glass has been trying on a friend’s, and watching cooler folks than I smugly wearing them around Brooklyn. There’s a dilatory part of me that thinks this is all for the best. Bringing a technology like Glass into a school library is a bullet that Lazy!Clair would like someone else to bite first.
In the mad rush to get out the door in the morning, I’ve left behind my keys, my wallet, and my MetroCard (The card those living in New York City use to get on public transportation). By the time I realize my mistake it is always too late (or I’m too lazy to run back to my apartment) and I make it through the day as best I can without these vital tools of a New Yorker.
But I have never, ever, forgotten my cell phone. If I realize, half-way down the block, that I have, I run back for it. When I chaperone school trips, I’m that weird lady who pulls out a charger and plugs my phone in to the nearest outlet, be it in a Starbucks or a courthouse. It’s my lifeline, and I feel strangely vulnerable without it; like this will be the one day my mother has an accident, my best friend has a break up, or my apartment catches on fire.
I use it for music. I use it for reading. I use it for maps, and games, and to keep track of my notes. I use it when I’m bored, I use it when I’m tired, I use it when I’m stuck between stations on the subway. My phone goes with me everywhere, and I am never without it.
Your teens are the same way. They would rather go without water than a data connection. They use their phones for enjoyment and work; reading and classifying if an animal is a llama or a duck (it’s a harder distinction than you might think). Their phones have become constant companions and guides. I wrote in my last article about what this means for the next generation of digital literacy; training on these devices is paramount is we want to produce a generation of informed information and device users. But no less important that providing information and training is providing consumable content– stuff for teens to do with their phones.
There’s never been any shortage of “Digital Divides” for us to talk about. The haves versus the have nots, the young versus the old, the tech natives versus the technology-as-a-second-language folks.
But even if your patrons have the internet and know not to call it “The YouTube,” there’s another digital divide in America that can be just as limiting as not having a connection at all: how teens, and adults, are getting online.
Access to Broadband
The FCC reports that 94% of Americans have access to high speed internet, a huge increase from the 15% who answered the same way in 2003. But that still leaves 6% of Americans– over 19 million people– without access to high speed internet. Concentrated mainly in rural and tribal lands, the populations who can’t access the higher level functions of the internet are arguably the most in need. And in places where broadband is available, over 100 million Americans still do not subscribe to it.
The Introduction of Smartphones
At the same time, smartphone usage is growing among teenagers, giving kids who have never owned a computer a way to access the internet that’s personal and reliable. A recent Pew Center report found that 37% of teenagers own smartphones. For many, these phones have become their primary way of accessing and sharing information– from social networking to texting to accessing library resources.
The widespread use and availability of smartphones to these teens is a great advancement, and an important step in the battle to make the internet accessible to all. But smartphones, for as great as they are, are not a digital panacea. And that’s where libraries (and you) come in.