RHE 309K: Arguing the Digital Divide (Fall 2005)

In 1993, Richard Lanham's The Electronic Word theorized about the movement of text from the printed book to the computer screen:

“The boundary between creator and critic simply vanishes...The work snowballs into electronic orality, changes and grows as it moves from one screen and keyboard to another."

Lanham believed that digital technology would force us to look, “AT text rather than THROUGH it.” He believed that reading a book meant looking THROUGH text to get to the content while the "electronic word" would force us to look AT text and consider the actual act of reading. He believed that it created "a new writing space...[and] a new educational space."

Two years later, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) conducted a survey of technological "haves" and "have-nots" called (entitled "Falling through the Net"). This research propelled discussions of the digital divide into the national spotlight, but there was not a consensus about the issue. In 2001, FCC Chairman Michael Powell made his stance on the digital divide clear:

"I think there's a Mercedes Benz divide. I'd like one, but I can't afford it."

In eight years, we passed from arguments of "new educational spaces" to arguments that compare computers to luxury vehicles. What happened? Do we still look AT digital technology, or do we merely look THROUGH it?

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