In The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected, Nellie Bowles of the New York Times covers the digital gap from an angle most don’t expect: instead of the rich having access to technology and the poor lagging behind, the rich have the luxury to be removed from screens while the poor are increasingly reliant on them.
In the past, the concern around technology was that “rich students would have access to the internet earlier, gaining tech skills and creating a digital divide.” Now, the concern has flipped, as “it could happen that the children of poorer and middle-class parents will be raised by screens, while the children of Silicon Valley’s elite will be going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction.” This divide is already happening in earnest, as “throwback play-based preschools” are popular in affluent areas, while states are funding online-only preschools for those who cannot afford preschool for their children otherwise. Public and private schools also have a stark difference in technology usage: “while the private Waldorf School of the Peninsula, popular with Silicon Valley Executives, eschews most screens, the nearby public Hillview Middle School advertises its 1:1 iPad program.”
Psychologist Richard Freed is frequently faced with two different scenarios: affluent parents want to hear him lecture about the book he wrote pertaining to “the dangers of screen-time for children” while low-income families at his practice have no idea that limiting screen time could help with the issues their children are going through. He is particularly concerned about the influence of psychology within companies that make technology and related tools “phenomenally addictive” based on their experience with persuasive design. Similarly, pediatrician Natasha Burgert fears that “technology is a huge social experiment on children,” promoted by companies that are lying to schools and parents about the importance of their tools. In Silicon Valley, parents like Kirstin Stecher, whose husband works as an engineer at Facebook, are raising their children “almost completely screen-free.”
The internet, though a place of information, has led to the poor of countries like the United States living in a world in which education is screen-based. Instead of providing access to better education and skillsets, screens are instead a way for persuasive design to manipulate and cause addiction in the kids that they are targeting. Instead of a digital gap in tech itself, according to Dr. Freed “the knowledge gap around tech’s danger is enormous.” Though the internet is certainly an asset in many ways, the way it has shaped our education system is dangerous—instead of blindly accepting it’s influence, it is important to understand the potential social consequences that screen abundance causes.