The Undergraduate Perspective

Most of the undergraduates at the University of Richmond not only have access to a computer, but also actively engage in online activities. Are we a group of "haves"? As more and more people gain access to the Internet, the dividing line between those who have access and those who don't gets bigger and bigger. As the article "A New Divide Between Haves and Have-nots?" points out, "Access to the information highway may prove to be less a question of privilege or position than one of the basic ability to function in a demographic society. It may determine how well people are educated, the kind of job they eventually get, how they are retrained if they lose their job, how much access they have to their government and how they will learn about the critical issues affecting them and the country (Ratan 25). This is obviously a real concern, maybe not for specific individuals at the University of Richmond, but in the community beyond the campus. Are students here thinking about this? The answer is yes, but usually in rather general terms. There may not be any other way to think of such problems, because the technology is changing so fast and going into so many new dimensions that have not even been thought of yet.

English 376 instructor Joe Essid started the discussion over cyberspace and the ways in which society is going to change by saying "Short of a huge burst of electro-magnetic radiation that fries the global data network and brings down civilization, we'll never go backward. Just consider how little money is 'real' these days, and how much consists of potentially ephemeral electronic pulses running through the Net. I'd be the first, however, to admit that a cyberculture scares AND excites me" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96).

The responses to Essid were varied. Todd Ferrante said "When I think about technology I can only be excited...Sure people use the Internet to buy things and it does isolate people a little, but honestly, how much human interaction occurs when you go to buy food or clothes?" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96). I think this comment deals directly with the issue of social isolation. If people shop, eat, and live over the Internet, those who do not will become completely isolated, creating a bigger barrier than ever before. Even during times of segregation, one could not help encountering someone of a different race; with computers, the possibility of complete and total segregation of classes, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, is real.

In the same week's post, Desiree Maldonado commented that computers "also change the interpersonal communications between people and countries, as well as businesses. And there is a general fear that it will depersonalize society." She goes on to say that the use of computers "personalizes treatment between people that are separated and allows communication and exchanges that would have been harder or even impossible to do without the computer" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96). Both of these are accurate points, but I think that the most general fear is that although communication will greatly increase among citizens of the modern world, third world countries and developing nations, and even many poorer members of developed countries, will not have communication at all. While the world gets smaller for people on the Internet, it gets bigger and bigger for those without Internet access. Kerry Johnson pointed out that "there is an obvious problem for making anything a necessary part of societal organization knowing that others do not have access to it" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96).

Although most of the views on the Newsgroup post were positive, many people were concerned that although the Internet may lead to some great places, those who are left behind are at a greater disadvantage than even the uneducated people of ten years ago. Kristel Widner pointed out that "surfing the Net isn't necessary for the average person. They might have to look up a book on a computer in a library somewhere, or use e-mail at work, or have their paycheck deposited electronically, but that's more or less where it stands for the average Joe. If things don't stay this way, there will be a serious loss of the middle class, making a giant division between the haves and have-nots" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96).

This view seems pretty accurate, but usually the one thing that can be counted on is change. However, if change occurs slowly, with people first having to use an electronic card catalog, then having to deposit checks electronically, then using e-mail, continuing until every person is finally using computers in everyday life, the divide between haves and have-nots may not be as severe. Kristel also comments that "if computers become so mandatory, there will be a major class division. Too many people are underprivileged for public computers to be a feasible idea. And it's common knowledge that the Web is already overloaded" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96).

Jeff Lewandowski says "It appears to me that the majority of people who are using today's cutting edge technology are being required to do so...In my opinion, it will be very difficult for many of the professors and students to get ready for the world that lies ahead. Those older and younger than these groups will not be affected so much. The older generation will not live to see the full impact of this cyberworld and the younger generation has a great head start on this technology, in comparison to the preparation that college students and professors of today had" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96). This view was shared by many on the Newsgroup post. We, the college students of the late 1990's, have the hardest time with this cyberworld. We are too young to have had extensive computer education in elementary school, but we are still expected to know a great deal about computers by the time we graduate in order to enter the job market.

Also, there are other problems that must be dealt with before society can think about becoming totally computer-oriented. As Aditi Mehta pointed out, "over half the people in the world cannot even read or write let alone get access to a computer. What about those millions of people? Aren't they a part of our culture? If so, cyberculture affects and will continue to affect only the lives of those who have access to it. Thus, it is impossible for cyberculture to ever encompass our culture as it is today...I think it is very idealistic for anyone to imagine a world totally taken over by cyberspace" (Newsgroup, 10/28/96).

So there are some of the views at our school. Although most people are excited about computers, there are definite drawbacks that have to be dealt with before computers can infiltrate our society any more than they already have.

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