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A New Digital Divide Emerges as Affluent Families Scale Back on Screen Time

October 31, 2018

Over the past six years I have written countless posts on the adverse impact of the digital divide on children raised in poverty and/or children raised in parts of the country where high speed internet is not readily available. But now, with the widespread use of cell phones and an increase in the use of computers in classrooms of all socio-economic levels, a new digital divide is emerging: children raised by affluent parents are spending less time in front of screens that children raised in poverty. Why? According to a NYTimes article by Nellie Bowles it’s because affluent parents, particularly those in Silicon Valley, realize the addictive nature of screen time, especially the algorithms of products like YouTube that keep feeding viewers more and more links that are likely to pique their interest. This paragraph captures the essence of the new digital divide:

It wasn’t long ago that the worry was that rich students would have access to the internet earlier, gaining tech skills and creating a digital divide. Schools ask students to do homework online, while only about two-thirds of people in the U.S. have broadband internet service. But now, as Silicon Valley’s parents increasingly panic over the impact screens have on their children and move toward screen-free lifestyles, worries over a new digital divide are rising. 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.

It is increasingly evident that the internet tool is used in different ways by different families, and affluent families tend to limit use of screens while less affluent families plop their children in front of the screens as a means of giving themselves the time they need to unwind. And the technology whizzes who know how the technology works are the most wary of its overuse:

“There’s a message out there that your child is going to be crippled and in a different dimension if they’re not on the screen,” said Pierre Laurent, a former Microsoft and Intel executive now on the board of trustees at Silicon Valley’s Waldorf School. “That message doesn’t play as well in this part of the world.”

People in this region of the world understand that the real thing is everything that’s happening around big data, AI, and that is not something that you’re going to be particularly good at because you have a cellphone in fourth grade,” Mr. Laurent said.

Understanding how to use a phone is not the same as understanding how the phone affects your thinking and your well-being… and those who understand the impact of the phones and screens on children are the most reluctant to encourage their use.


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