So emerging media is supposed to be the next best thing, right? Interactive videos are supposed to revolutionize the way view video content by allowing us to break down the barriers of communication. Social media is supposed to revolutionize how we connect with one another and explore the world around us and interactive websites and advanced search engines are supposed to make searching for information easier than ever before. Together, all of these different forms of media are supposed to help propel society to the next level and usher us into a new age where we are smarter, more skilled researchers and better equipped to analyze the world around us. All of that is fine and great but none of that can happen unless majority of society has access to these tools. We all know that more people than ever are online and have access to the internet. We know that there are 1.85 cells phones in use for every person on the planet (as of 2012). We know that there are 1.4 billion active Facebook users, but do we realize that there are millions people worldwide who don’t have access to the internet. And do we know that a significant portion of those people live right here in the United States. In fact, according to reports 20% of people living in the US live without access to the internet. The majority of those without access are concentrated in the south.
The inability to access to the internet and use emerging forms of media is a real problem for many and one that can have a lasting impact on our society. Not only does a lack of internet access have personal implications (the inability to pay bills online, the inability to conduct research and look up information, the inability to apply for jobs) but it also creates a social and economic divide between those with internet access and those without. Just think about your everyday life and how much you rely on the internet for tasks. Just think, what if you didn’t have access to the internet to apply for a job? Or what if you were unable to apply for financial aid to attend school because you lacked internet access? How would you conduct research on complicated topics? Yes, all of these things can be done in person, however access to the internet allows people to complete these tasks using less time and money that if they had to complete them in person.
“It’s 2014, why would anyone not have access to the internet?” Many may people ask this question. To those of us who are fortunate to have internet access it seems so farfetched that a person would not have internet access but the reality of the situation is that due to costs, location, and availability many people find themselves without access. Of these limitations, cost is the primary factor. The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity writes that there is a strong correlation between poverty and one’s ability to afford internet access. The group found that a family with an income of $15,000 adopted the internet at a 32% rate. Furthermore, the group found that because of a lack of competition, internet provides have little to no incentive to lower internet prices therefore those living in poverty are unable to afford internet access.
If we are going to all progress into this new age where emerging media is king, what can we do to ensure that everyone has access to the internet and to these new technologies? Many cities (Richmond, California, Nashville, Tennessee just to name a few) are implementing programs were free internet access is provided for residents who are unable to afford it. Some places provide mobile internet centers that travel around cities and states providing computers and internet (for temporary use) to those without. Social media tycoons like Mark Zuckerberg and others have discussed programs in which global internet access around the world is expanded. (Check out Google’s Project Loon) I personally think that for two hours a day, internet access should be free for all who are able to connect. Maybe, this is a farfetched idea, I don’t know, but I do know that as the internet and emerging media become more and more important to the functioning of our society, it will become even more imperative that all member of society are able to connect to the internet.