t, or just creating morebarriers to entry for the average person?
The effects of technological advancement differ depending on the level at
which they are examined. From an overall societal perspective, the
technological advances of the past fifty years have made many, if not all,
industries more efficient. However, on a more personal level the “digital
divide” is a very real phenomenon accentuating the differences between the
social classes. The implementation of personal computers provides a
microcosm in which to examine the transition state American society is in
with regard to technology.
On the surface, it is easy to see the barriers and inequalities created by
technological advancement. In the early use of computer, the sheer issue of
cost divided those who could increase their productivity with computer
tracking and management and those who could not afford the equipment to
remain competitive, the hallmark of the free market system. By advancing
those with sufficient capital to modernize, while neutralizing those of
more limited means, computers initially created greater barriers to
financial success for increasing numbers of people.
In the 1980s, personal computers began to find their way into the public
education system, similar to the way combustion engines worked their way
into public transportation forty years earlier. Similar to business, this
was an issue of available funding, with the wealthier school districts able
to provide more modern facilities and the poorer districts no computers at
all. A limited number of students gaining access to technology fed the much-
touted “digital divide,” which gave a new dimension to the educations
inequality that still plagues the United States. Upper and middle class
students gained access to the expanding computer science field, while
poorer students were left to the dwindling manufacturing professions and
To this day, school systems in extreme rural and urban areas do not have
the available funding to provide computer training to their students. In
addition, many students do no have access to a computer at home or a local
library. This lack of exposure limits the opportunities of modern students
in a much more dramatic way than it did their parents, as American society
becomes more dependent on computers to organize and regulate daily life.
Modern students and displaced workers without computer knowledge face a
grave disadvantage during a job search or higher education.
These obvious barriers to those of less economic means should not
necessarily be seen as an indictment of technology or a refutation of the
myriad benefits technological advancement has afforded the United States.
The technological revolution is a multi-layered process, with many of the
forces involved possessing a longer time frame than those that initially
created inequalities. The advent of computers can be seen as analogous to
the advent of the printing press. Just as literacy proved to be a basis for
evaluation the value of a prospective student or employee, so has computer
literacy become such a measure today.
Continuing the analogy, computers can also embody the great leveling device
that early books provided. Whereas initial mass printing of the bible
invited people to defy clerics by coming to their own revelations regarding
religion, so can the information age be a boon to freethinking. Education,
though biased in favor of those with means, cannot be reclaimed like other
material assets. The same can be said of computer training and proficiency.
If people with less economic opportunity can gain access to computer
skills, these skills are accompanied by a chance at social mobility.
As computers become more commonplace, which the current trend indicates,
the barriers that they initially posed to the lower economic classes will
slowly be decreased or eliminated. This stage of the technological
revolution is as fundamental to societal advancement and efficiency as was
widespread literacy replacing elitist control of all texts four hundred
years ago. At this point, society must acknowledge the potential barriers
that technology can create and work toward the equal access to technology
that will foster growth and prosperity for all citizens, not just those
with sufficient economic resources.