The Digital Divide 2.0

GENERIC: World, Computer, Internet, Kids, Children, Teens, Teenager, Online, Parenting Control
This story was reported by's Jennifer Hoar

"Girls, finish your homework — people in China and India are starving for your jobs."

That's how columnist and author Tom Friedman advises his kids about what they're up against in the global job market.

The digital revolution has leveled the "playing field," Friedman says in his book "The World Is Flat." That means that information is exchanged and business is transacted over transparent borders, and at lightning speed.

The brave new wired world is truly unforgiving to the wired-less. That means there are demands on American teenagers that didn't exist decades ago. Access to and familiarity with the technology that has become the medium of global business is critical.

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"Digital literacy is the way to win the game," says Angus King, former Governor of Maine and an advocate of technology in education.


For the past decade, the digital divide has referred to the disparity in technological access due to factors such as economics, race and geography. The Digital Divide 1.0 was defined primarily in terms of who has a computer and who is online, and who doesn't and isn't. And it was a domestic issue.

All of that remains relevant as long as there are "have-nots" in the digital democracy. However, the Digital Divide 2.0 model goes well beyond who does or doesn't possess 21st century hardware and software.

"It's not just about getting machines to kids," says Ken Kay, president of the 21st Century Partnership, an organization that emphasizes integrating communication and critical thinking and learning with technology. "The digital divide has been an equipment issue; we think about it as a skills issue."

In the flat world, you need technical savvy along with what Friedman describes as a "certain mental flexibility, self-motivation, and psychological mobility." The tools don't enhance the students; the students enhance the tools.

The digital divide framework is different now because inner-city kids need to be able to compete with suburban kids — and kids in Shanghai.


Wired schools have proliferated significantly since the mid-1990s. In fact, Web access is just about ubiquitous: a National Center for Education Statistics study shows that by 2002, 99 percent of U.S. public schools had Internet access.