Study warns of Internet illiteracy

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

added.

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.

RELATED LINKS

"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.

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