By Kristofer K. and Kaoru T.
Since the Internet was opened up for the American public in the beginning of the 1990s, it has continually become available to more people. It has gone from being optional to necessary; businesses depend on it and individuals need to control it to do their jobs. However, while it is easy to think that everyone is involved, the truth is that masses of people are left out of this viral community; not everyone has Internet access. Age is a factor that contributes to the digital divide. In 2009, household broadband Internet use for ages 16-44 was 71.2 percent while it was only 39.9 percent for ages 65 years and over (U.S. Department of Commerce, 8). While younger Americans grow up online and rely heavily on the sometimes deceptive Internet for information, older Americans without Internet access are less informed and miss political and social events.
Young Americans of the Internet era have fully embraced the Internet. Message boards, instant messaging and social media are only a few methods of communication that these people grow up with that older Americans never used and choose not to use even today. Psychologist Patricia Greenfield argues that the Internet is especially interesting for younger people because of this wide variety of meeting places (Bower, Par. 4). This has resulted in a shift from private to public sources of information. Older Americans form their values and beliefs based on close friends, family and reliable dictionaries, while this generation seeks out messages from online contacts, complete strangers and open-source software. Although this gives younger Americans more options and points of view, they have to be more careful in their information seeking.
The entrance and development of the Internet has had a profound impact on critical thinking. What used to be about considering the author's personal involvement has turned into the quest to find out what person the author is. With the Internet it is sometimes hard to know who created a message and this causes trouble. Older Americans without Internet access may be used to finding facts in one place and accepting them as true, so the Internet could be a treacherous place for those people. On the other hand, older Americans can also choose to completely distrust the internet and take no viral content for true at all. The Internet can cause young Americans problems as well; although they know that much Internet content is created by people like themselves, and they make sure to control their information with multiple sources, many times casual attitude and laziness results in acceptance of false facts, and deceiving information comes their way. Researchers have concluded that students find it difficult to recognize trustworthy sources, and suggest that media literacy training would help anyone, young or old, separate primary sources from unreliable messages (Graham, 75).
Some political and social events happen exclusively online. On January 30, 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama was involved in a Google+ 'hangout'. The idea was that anyone could join the social network and ask Obama a question. The top-rated questions were selected by Google staff and then conveyed to Obama, thereby allowing the people to interact with their president (CNN, par. 11). Plenty of questions wanted him to sing or dance, but there were serious questions and Obama got to express his opinions on the economy, employment and taxes. The idea to interact with the people was not a new one - in fact it was very similar to what Roosevelt did with his fireside chats over radio in the late 1930s - but the intention to keep the public up-to-date seems legitimate. Even so, the digital divide poses a question: What about the people without Internet access? Many older Americans did not get to participate in the 'hangout', meaning they ended up with no answers and the same questions that they had before. Media used to be all about information, but the one major difference between the Internet and older methods of communication is that the Internet is interactive, meaning it is possible to both consume and produce. This gives participants greater possibilities, but it also makes the absence grow for people without Internet access. Older Americans without Internet do not only miss important information, ultimately they do not get to contribute to the forming of the country anymore.
Attempts at teaching older Americans Internet skills and closing this digital divide have been made over the years. In an experiment conducted by Michael J. Cody in 1999, the elderly who went along with the project and learned basic computer skills felt increased social support, connectivity and less technology-related anxiety. However, most people who were recruited decided to withdraw early on as they believed it was too hard to learn (Cody, 281). Maybe it is too late to teach these people about the Internet, maybe it is even a futile task, seeing how the vast majority of people today grow up with Internet and how old people will be used to the technology in one generation. Furthermore, the digital divide is an on-going process and a new technology will most probably replace the Internet as the technology no old Americans will want to learn. Right now the digital divide as a problem of age is present, and it is affecting both old and young Americans in their pursuit of media messages. Yet, it is a present problem with a natural solution, and those usually resolve themselves with time.
In conclusion, younger Americans have more access to Internet connection, meaning they grow up online, seek out what they believe to be the best information there, stay informed and participate in social and political events. Older Americans on the contrary, choose to stay away from the Internet, resulting in few but trustworthy sources, traditional values and less social and political involvement. Researchers have proposed media literacy training as a solution to close the divide, but the issue is natural and could resolve itself with time – until a new technology takes the world by storm.
Bower, Bruce. "Growing Up Online." Science News 169.24 (2006): 376. Web. 21 May. 2012. Web address: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_24_169/ai_n26700809/
CNN Politics. “Obama Hosts Google 'Hangout'”. Web. 21 May 2012. Web address: http://articles.cnn.com/2012-01-30/politics/politics_obama-google_1_president-obama-obama-impersonator-google?_s=PM:POLITICS
Cody, Michael J., and Deborah Dunn. "Silver Surfers: Training And Evaluating Internet Use Among Older Adult Learners." Communication Education 48.4 (1999): 269. Web. 21 May. 2012. Web address (Login required): http://web.ebscohost.com.libdb.smc.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=67d252c0-1bbc-4fa1-81b7-86cad21a7984%40sessionmgr10&vid=9&hid=24
Purchase link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03634529909379178
Graham Leah, and Metaxas Panagiotis Takis. “Critical Thinking in the Internet Era”. Communications of the ACM 46 (2003): 5. Web. 21 May. 2012. Web address: http://www.wellesley.edu/cs/pmetaxas/CriticalThinking.pdf
U.S. Department of Commerce. “Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States.” 21 May. 2012. Web address: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/esa_ntia_us_broadband_adoption_report_11082010_1.pdf