Yesterday (November 21, 2010) a New York Times article, Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction, described the increasing problems that adolescents experience when choosing between computer entertainment and school assignments. Moreover, a fair number of students find it more and more difficulty complete reading assignments because they prefer short-lived digital activities. One compelling point in reporter Matt Richtel’s article stands out and makes me wonder — is the digital divide expanding before our eyes, even in families that can afford basic computer equipment and access?
Richtel refers to Duke University economics professor Jacob L. Vigdor, who led studies that found an association between access to digital entertainment and motivation to do homework. Adolescents who choose computer entertainment activities instead of school work come from every socio-economic group, however those most at risk are in families where working parents have more difficulty, much of it financial, supervising computer time and access. This suggests that the digital divide, rather than just including people without computers and Internet access, is expanding to include students who cannot concentrate on educational activities or the types of computer tasks that will support their education.
Here is the key part of the abstract from Professor Vigdor’s paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
We use administrative data on North Carolina public school students to corroborate earlier surveys that document broad racial and socioeconomic gaps in home computer access and use. Using within-student variation in home computer access, and across-ZIP code variation in the timing of the introduction of high-speed internet service, we also demonstrate that the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.
This research may show further expansion of the digital divide.