Posts Tagged ‘ One Web Day ’

The Internet’s benefits still offline for many

Study the digital divide, as I’m doing this semester, and you inevitably come across a number of boorish commentary pieces  making the claim that the digital divide is dead. Just about anyone who wants to has Internet access these days, the argument goes, so what once may have been a legitimate issue 10 years ago is now an outdated cause trumpeted only because journalists are too lazy to find a new tech issue.

Thankfully Elon students (well at least the ones who take advantage of free coffee and donuts) haven’t fallen into that line of reasoning. As a way to raise awareness for One Web Day this morning, my class surveyed several dozen students at the weekly college coffee on campus, asking their thoughts on how many people have Internet access in North Carolina and around the world. As the results of the survey show, the most popular answers were the correct choices — only 61 percent of North Carolinians and 25 percent of people around the world are able to log onto the networks bloggers like us take for granted.

The global figure remains low despite major increases (500 percent or more) in Internet use in Asia, the Middle East and Africa during the past decade. Take a look at all the stats and you’ll see there’s a long way to go before the divide is bridged between those plugged in and those still disconnected. Developing countries already have a host of barriers — many political or cultural — keeping them from reaching economic prosperity. A citizenry unable to use networks that are now essential lifelines for any large business severely handicaps that nation’s prospects.

And bare-bones Internet access is only scratching the surface of the issue. Even in North America, where the figure is a more robust 74 percent, there’s a wide disparity among connection speeds, a real problem as anyone using dial-up knows all too well. Others counted as users only have access at work, school or in libraries, restricting them from leveraging the Internet’s full potential. And then there’s the regular “users” who lack the knowledge and computer skills to do much more than just browse the web. They also stand to fall behind professionally without the right training.

It’s these disparities that we have to keep in mind when thinking about the Internet. Access isn’t as free and easy as we might like to think, and connecting is just the first step.

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There’s always room for more details on the web

Note: the following is a short essay for One Web Day on how the web has impacted my profession. You can see a video of me reading an abridged version here.

In print, my words had no hope of reaching an audience.
Online, there was always room for my voice.
As a college undergraduate working for The Daily Tar Heel at UNC-Chapel Hill, space was tight to publish stories from the dozens of staffers working each day. But thanks to the paper’s website, space was plentiful to give every qualified story a platform. The web provided assurance that everything staffers wrote could reach an audience, while simultaneously motivating writers to improve their craft.
No matter how far we progress in the communications field, that appeal of the web remains just as strong.
In many ways, the benefits only grow with experience.
A good communicator, be they in journalism, public relations or filmmaking, will produce a volume of quality content that easily eclipses the available space in print. Photographers take hundreds of pictures at an event, filmmakers record hours of footage, advertising campaigns produce dozens of related marketing pieces. In the pre-Internet days, only the absolute cream of the crop could be viewed by the general public.
The Internet blew open the door of in-depth content for those curious about a particular topic, while at the same time empowering those compiling the information. Rather than just post the bare minimum that will fit in print, communicators strive to create as much compelling content as possible, knowing it can have life on the web.
It’s enlivened our consumption of media based upon specific interests. Rather than just hope the latest edition of Slate has a piece by insightful political writer John Dickerson, readers can quickly go back and access all his past stories or tweets. When entertaining sportswriter Bill Simmons hits on a great topic at espn.com, he’s not constrained by word counts and can link us to his sports and pop culture inspirations. While fans are waiting for the captivating television show Lost to start a new season, they can go to official sites or fan message boards for new content built around past episodes. When inspiring news columnist Nicholas Kristof posts a compelling piece in the New York Times, readers can check up on his blog or Facebook page to see all the news gathering and the thought processes that went into the writing.
This doesn’t ensure that all content reaches a mass audience, or even that it won’t just be ignored once posted online. But the web provides assurance that nothing of quality need ever remain buried, and that fans of any fictional or non-fictional piece can always dig beneath the surface for more details. No matter how constrained or restricted access to a traditional platform remains for up-and-coming media professionals, they always have a place to share their knowledge and let their talents shine through.