Is this the new digital divide?

“Hey dad, can I have a YouTube channel?” my son asked.

“What kind of a channel would you create?” I asked.

“Maybe a channel showing how to create things in Minecraft. But there’s already a lot out there. What if I had a channel showing kids how to fix things? Or maybe I could test whether or not things in cartoons could happen in real life. You know how cartoons will have a balloon that goes out and it propels a toy car? Ever tried that? It won’t work. The balloon deflates and the car just stays there.”

I nod as he continues. “What if I did a YouTube channel where I showed the evolution of cartoons? Or maybe a YouTube channel devoted to reviewing the best and worst elevator music. Or maybe I could do top ten lists of political commercials from the past.”

Elevator music? Political campaign commercials? My kid is odd. I get it. But that’s the beauty of YouTube. You don’t have to be odd alone.

Truthfully, I feel mixed about this desire to publish on YouTube. I have seen the dark side of the fame and the metrics and the cultural obsession with fame. And yet, there’s this other reality that intrigues me. My son wants to create videos and share them with the world.

*    *    *

Last year, when I surveyed students on how they used technology, 98% of them had never created and edited a video. None of them had created a Scratch video game. Less than one percent of them had blogged before.

I also asked them the following questions:

How are you connecting with the world? 
How are you curating the content you consume? 
What are you making with your devices? 
Are you sharing your world with the world? Who is your audience?
What interesting problems are you solving with technology? 

The results were interesting. Inevitably, I had one group of uncritical digital consumers and the other group who were digital creators. This second group of students were also the same students who would curate what they found fascinating. They were the ones who viewed technology as a chance to solve problems. I found it interesting that this second group actually spent slightly less time using their devices than the digital consumers. They were also more likely to think intentionally about the medium itself.

It has me thinking that the new digital divide is about how we use technology. Students aren’t digital natives. They’re consumer natives coming out of a consumer culture.

Here’s the hard part: the few kids who could answer these questions nearly always described things they were doing outside school. Which has me thinking that if we want to bridge this new digital divide, we need to quit viewing technology as a method of content delivery and thinking about how we can use technology for connective and creative purposes.


If you enjoyed this post and your curious about this topic, feel free to consider the following:

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

9 responses

  1. Nailed it! Nice post!

  2. There's a name for this. It's called Second Level Digital Divide or The Production Gap. The idea is that increasingly low-ses kids have tech and connection, but never see it modeled by adults for creation or problem solving. It's the divide between producers and consumers of digital content. Many of my class have tech but it's commonly used for gaming or entertainment, not for creation. Here's a basic definition:

    1. That's exactly what I'm seeing.

    2. What we're doing to try and compensate for Digital Divide is over compensating in school. Trying to be as cutting edge as possible, using as much tech as possible in as many creative ways as possible. The reality is that if low SES kids don't get tech skills (or sports, or arts) in school, they don't get it. Kids from more privileged backgrounds will get a lot of this stuff at home.

  3. I wonder if this is partially because we have a lot of people (particularly in education) who do not view problems as something to solve, but something to be told how to solve?

  4. No question this divide exists. What are steps we can take to help close the gap? That's something I'm wrestling with. Students in our school have Chromebooks. 45% are low SES. I see how some students use the devices for consumption and some for creation. We want to help all students see they can add value to their life and to others' lives by creating and sharing.

  5. I've observed a couple of related things. First, teens seem to experience social media differently than adults. Adults are more isolated when browsing SM, where teens will talk to each other about what they're seeing. I also agree that there is a divide in the creation/consumption. But, I've even seen a divide in how time is spent and how much time is spent. Teens are interacting with each other more, where adults are playing candy crush. I've know kids who will delete games and even social media apps off their phones if they feel like it's distracting, especially during finals week. How many adults do that?

  6. Hi John,
    There is so much that resonates with me about this post. Firstly, Andrew and I have had many conversations about the digital divide and the extent to which kids who come from elite backgrounds do have opportunities to create more than kids who don't. I have thought about how if we don't offer more opportunities for students to do this creating in school, that many will never know anything beyond consumption. The other thing that really resonates with me is the conversation you had with your son as I allowed my daughter at a young age to create a Youtube channel for her stop-motion animation videos, but I didn't want her to put her name on it because I was concerned not necessarily about the dark side of fame, but the dark side of the internet; of the potential comments, the fear of loss of privacy, etc… Then my daughter was asked about social media at a job interview and my perspective shifted. Here is what I wrote about it: Took a slightly different perspective but began with the same conversation. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas here!

  7. I appreciated your post comparing digital consumers and digital creators. I teach in a district with a 1:1 student device program. In my world languages classroom, we use the devices to access information in the target language on the internet, such as YouTube videos (news programs, commercials, and music videos), websites (current events, weather, culture) as well as apps to practice the language. We also use the devices to create digital projects and videos in the target language. I would like to reflect further on the question you posed “What interesting problems are you solving with technology?” because it is important to provide students opportunities to develop as innovators and problem solvers, as this is what the world needs.

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