“With the emerging digital economy becoming a major driving force of our nation's economic well-being, we must ensure that all Americans have the information tools and skills that are critical to their participation. Access to such tools is an important step to ensure that our economy grows strongly and that in the future no one is left behind.”
— from Falling Through the Net, a letter from William M. Daley, U.S. Secretary of Commerce 1997-2000
* * *
This is a perfect description of the traditional digital divide- the idea that with the growth of new technologies such as smart phones, tablet computers, cloud computing, etc., the cost of keeping up with the breaking new methods of information dissemination will inherently create a divide between what those with money and those without are capable of doing or knowing.
Democracy requires that people have freedom of speech, but freedom of speech is meaningless without the freedom to access cutting edge information in order to inform speech. Therefore, those with money will have a greater weight in public debate as their information will be more relevant and pertinent to a fast-changing world filled with evolving truths.
The speed of information is constantly ramping up. First newspapers created online editions that allowed those with computer access to get their news in a more timely fashion. Then there was Twitter. We have gone from once a day delivery to up-to-the minute posting. This change in time frames adds a new dimension to the digital divide: that the divide is a shifting line, moving between yesterday's cutting edge and today's newest trend. And for those working in the technology sector, falling behind that ever-advancing line may make the difference between having a job and unemployment.
To keep upping the speed and evolving the medium of information exchange, the digital divide is starting to leave behind people in the older information publishing houses in favor of the newest and fastest technologies. An illustration of this is the layoffs by Ziff Davis Publishers and new hiring by Twitter.
Ziff Davis is known, amongst other publications, for the magazine PC Mag. As the they moved into digital publishing, the change caused layoffs of staff whose training and expertise were no longer needed. In contrast, Twitter is now hiring people with the latest computer knowledge to help keep Twitter in the spotlight. People still want knowledge, but those who have overcome the traditional digital divide and have computers want the knowledge in different media formats. This change has caused the divide between those who once had publishing jobs at Ziff Davis and those who now are employed by Twitter.
The information business talks about and studies the traditional digital divide in terms of reaching technology out to those who do not have, but what about those who become unemployed because of technology? As companies evolve to meet user desires, those very desires are pushing technology workers out of work. How do we reconcile this trend-driven unemployment with our love of the next coolest technology? Perhaps one ethical means is for users to put their money behind companies that care for the future of their employees with employer-funded continuing education and development.
To learn more about the changing job market, check out these titles at your local library: