Study warns of Internet illiteracy
- By William Matthews
- Oct 04, 2000
In just five years, the Internet will be so important for dealing with government
and business that those who lack access or do not know how to use the Internet
"will suddenly find themselves functionally illiterate," warn high-tech
consultants at Gartner Group Inc.
The federal government should try to prevent such mass Internet illiteracy
by taking steps now to increase the availability of computers and ensure
Internet access for school children, adult workers and disadvantaged groups,
Gartner analysts urged in a report Tuesday.
If current trends continue, by 2005, about 150 million adult Americans —
about 75 percent of the adult population — will be using the Internet, Gartner
predicts. But that will mean that 50 million adult Americans will not have
easy access to or know how to use the Internet. By then, the Internet will
be so pervasive that not having access to it or not knowing how to use it
"will be the equivalent of not knowing how to read or write," said Michael
Fleisher, chief executive officer at Gartner Group.
In an address to congressional staffers, Fleisher called for stronger government
efforts to head off Internet illiteracy, which he portrayed as the ultimate
digital divide. Providing computers in libraries, classrooms and public
kiosks, as the government now does, will not be enough, he warned.
Fleisher cited an experiment in which one group of school children in West
Virginia were given laptop computers and home Internet accounts and another
group was provided with Internet access only at school. Those with laptops
and Internet access at home performed substantially better than those who
had access only at school, he said. Learning to use the Internet effectively
takes longer than the few hours children are exposed to it at school, he
Government should take steps to make access to computers and the Internet
more universal by providing computers and Internet access to all government
employees, offering tax credits to employers who provide employees with
home Internet access, promoting telecommuting, the report suggests.
Greater Internet access is especially important for people in lower socioeconomic
groups, the Gartner Group reported. "For the first time in history, a technology
exists that, to a large extent, can level the playing field" by providing
disadvantaged people equal access to information, the group reported.
But Internet equality remains elusive. Steady declines in the cost of computers
and Internet access has helped close the digital divide, but that trend
may be about to end as broadband Internet access becomes more available,
Fleisher said. Access through cable or high-speed phone lines will increase
the richness of next-generation Internet service. But it will also increase
the cost, again leaving many behind, he said.
"More access, yet divide persists" [civic.com, Oct. 4, 2000]/civic/articles/2000/1002/web-study-10-04-00.asp
Use the other links from the civic story, above.