Another concern I have about the role of technology in our modern communications is quite distinct. As many have noted, there is a growing technological divide based on socioeconomic status in this country.
The affluent have all kinds of gadgets. They are deeply enmeshed in electronic communication. But the less affluent are not. If technological communication is the new norm in how we interact in our professional and civic lives, then the poor are at a huge disadvantage in terms of professional attainment and participation in civic discourse.
I had heard about this problem for well over a decade, but it started to become less abstract to me over the years as I have worked with at-risk teens in various ministries and nonprofits. In various contexts, I have seen a pattern. One reason these teens were labeled as “at-risk” to end up in these programs was that they had stolen cell phones or smart phones, or they had appropriated such devices that the owners had lost. They were considered to have engaged in various forms of theft, a criminal activity.
Let me acknowledge that in the base case I don’t tend to have a lot of sympathy for theft of non-essential items. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean stole bread to feed hungry children. Inspector Javert is relentlessly unforgiving, but most readers (or members of the audience) believe Javert’s heartless approach is not deserved or appropriate. I too appreciate the desperation of a man trying to feed starving children.
But when we are taking about non-essentials like electronics, I just don’t understand. I have been a victim of property crimes at different points in my life. It is not fun. It is not fair. When you don’t have a whole lot, it is particularly tough when what you do have is stolen. It is easier for me to sympathize with the victim rather than the perpetrator of property crimes.
Perhaps I’m hard-hearted, but I have not been inclined to be sympathetic when the teens I’ve met have stolen or misappropriated the cell phones or smart phones of others. But I’ve worked with so many teens who have engaged in such behavior that I’ve at least become aware that it is not an uncommon phenomenon. And I’ve tried to understand the mindset and the emotional difficulties of a teen who would engage in such activities. I have listened to their perspective. It is not easy for me to understand, but I try.
It has to be acknowledged that the teens with whom I’ve worked have been from economically deprived families. These are not kids from affluent families taking someone else’s cell phone or smart phone though they have access to one through legitimate means. Instead, these are kids who live in cramped, ugly apartments. Their parents have dead-end jobs or are unemployed. There is not always food in the house. Health care is available only if the state budget guidelines are inclusive enough. In these households, luxuries like electronics are non-existent. On some level, I can conceptualize that it is tough to not have the ability to text or e-mail or get information from the web when it feels like everyone else in our society has that ability.
Recently, I caught the tail end of a program Bill Moyers did on this issue of the high price of access to mobile phone and internet. Mr. Moyers interviewed Susan Crawford who had been a special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation. She has written a book: Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. The interview is accessible at the link below
In the next few posts, I will discuss some thoughts about Ms. Crawford’s ideas.
As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!