Not only don’t we have universal access to personal computing today, it is
unlikely that we ever will. Two sorts of considerations are relevant here.

Firstly, if one examines the technology where we have had explicitly public
policies of universal access. The “plain old telephone system”–one finds
that approximately 18% of African American households do not have a
telephone. The percentage is approximately the same in Hispanic-American
homes. On some Native American reservations, 80% of households are without
telephone. A recent study done at Rutgers concluded that the barrier for
low-income people is the initial deposit required (at least $100 and often as
high as $250). (A personal computer requires a household investment of
perhaps $1500-2000!). Lack of access is particularly acute in inner city
ethnic neighborhoods and among households headed by women.

Secondly, for large numbers of people there is very little satisfaction of
true needs that can be obtained via computerization. The sorts of info
available on the net are in categories of interest to professionals,
intellectuals, investors-not ordinary working class people. The majority of
Americans have no use for computer programs to do spread-sheets; in fact,
most don’t even have checkbooks to balance. It is far easier for executives
in insurance companies or banks to get information on workers than for
workers to get info on these execs. Databases exist to give landlords the
credit ratings of prospective tenants, but there are few comparable
compilations on housing violations by landlords for a prospective renter to
access.

Finally, for many people information is not the top item on their list of
needs; power and resources are. Only the naive or the scurrilous believe the
Third Wave claim that “information is power.” Power is power, and
information is particularly useful to those who are already powerful.


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