Age and Income: Unwanted effects on technology utilization?

5 05 2010

It is no secret that the population in the United States is ageing at a rapid rate. This can largely be attributed to the baby boomers following the end of World War II who are now the ones entering retirement age en mass. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Department on Aging estimates that adults age 65 or older will account for 19% of the United States population by 2030, equivalent to 72 million people. Similar trends are beginning to play out in other countries around the globe as well.

Since it seems that there are more people ageing during a period in history where technology is increasingly becoming ingrained with every day lifestyles, where do older adults fit in this situation? That is one of several interesting topics analyzed at a recent presentation by one of my master’s program classmates, JQ Abbey. As more people enter into convalescence, how are they to interact with the latest technological breakthroughs in digital communications?

Attempts are being made to get older adults not just online but comfortable enough in using online technology to realize the great potential that the Internet holds at any age. Silver Surfer’s Day is an annual event begun in 2002 where various events are held around the United Kingdom to help older adults understand and utilize digital technology. This year’s events are taking place on May 21. In addition to providing Internet assistance, Silver Surfer’s Day events can take on many forms in bridging the gap between older adults and cutting edge technology. Resources for utilizing social media tools such as Twitter, how to play interactive video games or using digital cameras to upload pictures online are all possible topics discussed at these events.

If events such as these were taken away, how would older adults gain hands-on experience with new technology? Some might say that their children can teach them. This seems more like a cope out for several reasons. For one thing, their children are adults themselves with adult responsibilities that come with living their own lives such as jobs and raising their own children. Secondly, time can be a highly elusive entity. In order for an older adult to become familiarized with the latest technological tools, incremental steps will likely need to be taken along with plenty of time to answer any questions that are almost guaranteed to surface. Finally, what about older adults without any offspring? Are they just deemed unlucky and therefore unable to be taught how to use a laptop computer to surf the Internet?

Older adults are not the only members of worldly populations who are at a disadvantage in using technology. My classmate’s presentation also pointed out that children and families in lower income areas also experiencing similar problems. When money is limited, many families cannot afford Internet service, but efforts are underway in attempts to lessen the “digital gap” that results in such situations. One effort is the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation, which is an intensive program that provides technology skills training to children and their parents from economic disadvantaged urban areas. The program takes place in the children’s own school, often on weekends, where teachers help to facilitate the skills training. The benefits from this approach are multifaceted:

  • Parent/child bonds can strengthen
  • Parental communication and trust with their child’s teacher are increased
  • Community involvement is encouraged
  • Completing the program provides child and parent with greater confidence and ability to use different technological tools and resources

What is most interesting about these paradigms is that they focus on a shared problem between two seemingly unique populations. For older adults, they often lack familiarity with technology such as computers and how to use the Internet. For families living in lower economic levels, often access and training for technology use is lacking. However, clearly benefits can be realized by addressing these groups. The aforementioned programs are steps in the right direction. This is especially true when considering that a recent BBC World Service poll found nearly four out of five people consider Internet access to be a fundamental human right. With that kind of sentiment being clearly documented, more efforts need to be made to allow humans of all ages comfort in using the basic modern technologies.

Net Neutrality and the Appellate Court: Reasons for Concern and Praise in FCC Defeat

10 04 2010

A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding net neutrality standards raises a bunch of far-reaching consequences for Internet users. The court’s decision stated in no uncertain terms that the Federal Communications Commission does not have the authority to regulate how Internet service providers (ISP) restrict access to content that is accessed over their electronic networks. In essence, the court handed a victory to the big media companies in this country in so far that they can decide as private industry players what you and I view online.

If this potential power grab by media companies scares you, rest assured you are not alone. At first I was one of those who felt very uneasy about the effects this decision could have on my Internet surfing. However, the more I looked into the topic, the more I realized this issue has many, many sides to it.

It is likely a safe assumption that most people who have grown nervous with the Appellate Courts decision feel this way because of possible restrictions towards online content. This is a valid concern. I also do not want one company, such as Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner or any other Internet provider, to decide what I can and cannot check out online in my home on my time. Whenever public freedom to access information is restricted, there is a problem. My own ability to judge what I want to see, read or hear online should be my decision. If this recent court ruling erodes my ability to carry out this activity, I will be one unhappy camper.

When reading about the Appellate Court’s decision, I realized that there is a hypothetical elephant in the room that must be acknowledged. The elephant -–rather issue—is in regards to what the FCC can regulate. If the FCC does not possess the regulatory power for ISPs, then who or what does? Where are the safety measures, the checks and balances to power, that are meant to secure the interests of the public at large? Sure, some claim that as a private industry, self-regulation will ensure that the public is treated fairly when it comes to Internet access. However, we have seen numerous examples of corporate debacles stemming from deregulation activities in this country and the serious ripple effects the public experiences when they occur. Considering the FCC has been sidelined in terms of regulatory activity on the Internet, this leads to my next point.

The justice system that exists today in the United States is overburdened in many ways. Political leaders, judges and citizens have cried foul over the length of time it can take for court cases to be decided in this country. If there already is a problem of case overload in our judicial system and the FCC has now been ordered to stand down from regulating Internet providers, who then will have to step up to the plate and take on these regulatory duties? It would seem that by default, the United States’ courts are set to become the go-to entity in regulating Internet accessibility, as if the courts did not have enough on their plates already! This is a particular concern because it seems this will have far-reaching effects as this massive responsibility will only clog an already over burdened justice system. Additionally, if one were to factor in the increasingly partisan politics in our nations capital, the ideological differences among politicians has slowed the process of filling vacant federal court judgeship’s to a crawl. Yet another example of what may help to further strain the administration of justice across the country.

In conclusion, I must be fair in highlighting a major point of support I have towards the Appellate Court’s ruling against the FCC. From a strict business perspective, the claim by ISPs that it is neither fair nor reasonable for bandwidth hogging applications to be charged the exact same fees as normal bandwidth users is correct. If someone is using a program online that takes up a disproportionately large amount of bandwidth so that it infringes upon the Internet experience for other users, that one user should be charged more. In simplistic terms, this concept is similar to the way taxes are determined in the United States. The more income you make, the more you pay in taxes. Similarly, the more Internet bandwidth you use, the more you pay for that usage. Conceivably, the ISPs can reinvest the extra funding generated in this way for higher bandwidth capacity cables so that the Internet experience can be consistent and reliable for all users.

Stay tuned for future developments on net neutrality as the Appellate Court ruling is a beginning, not an end, to a significantly important issue facing the future of Internet use in the United States.