Popping Your Bubble: True Tales of the Digital Divide
By Eric Martin, Native American Public Telecommunications
It was at SXSW 2011 that someone tweeted about realizing that not all their clients had smartphones and tablets, followed by a telling hashtag: #beyondthebubble.
This was followed by a tweet from our friends at Native Public Media, heralding the wonderful achievement of reservation homes surpassing the 75 percent mark for landline phone penetration.
Seeing these two tweets back-to-back just showed how out of touch many of those in the SXSW bubble were with the rest of the country—especially rural and poor areas.
It’s not enough for technology advocates and leaders to move “beyond the bubble.” The bubble needs to be popped.
I was at the 2nd Annual Tribal Technology Visioning Conference in 2003, when a room full of tech people working in Indian Country gave a standing ovation to the news that their goal of 50 percent landline phone penetration in reservation households had been met.
It was a defining moment in my life that I often cite when people say that the Digital Divide has been bridged.
It’s actually kind of funny how many times people have “corrected” me on that fact.
“Oh you mean Internet access, don’t you? Or cell phone penetration?”
Bubbles can be hard to pop. The idea that there are households that physically can’t get a dial tone in their home just doesn’t match up with a lot of people’s realities.
And it isn’t just mainstreams society’s bubble that needs to be popped.
Yet another obstacle is convincing people who are not online that the Internet has value for them.
Part of this is reaching out to non-digital communities and demonstrating how the Internet is a tool they can use—to connect with members of their community that have moved away, or to share their culture and community with the world.
In the process, they can pop other bubbles around ideas of race, art, knowledge, and life.
I hope to continue popping bubbles at the NAMAC 2012 Conference in Minneapolis. We’ll discuss the Digital Divide, and learn how Internet “newbies” are using this new medium to preserve and share culture with each other, and with the world at large.
Eric Martin, Interactive Media Specialist, has been working at Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) since 1996, and helped create the AIROS Native Networks’ online presence. Eric has presented about radio, the Digital Divide, new media, and the Web, at SXSW, the Aboriginal Streams Audio Streaming Workshop, the Native American Journalist Association Conventions, and the Intertribal Native Radio Summit, among other events.