Recently the New York Times ran an article about the new digital divide, and how among policymakers the concern is starting to move from access to the Internet, to how children are using it:
As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.
This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.
However, you can make the case that the real story is not the time difference between poorer and better-off kids, but in the rise in the amount of time kids are spending with devices:
A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.
The study found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets. That is an increase of 4 hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999.
Children of more educated parents, generally understood as a proxy for higher socioeconomic status, also largely use their devices for entertainment. In families in which a parent has a college education or an advanced degree, Kaiser found, children use 10 hours of multimedia a day, a 3.5-hour jump since 1999. (Kaiser double counts time spent multitasking. If a child spends an hour simultaneously watching TV and surfing the Internet, the researchers counted two hours.)
As one researcher put it, “Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.”
Yet another data-point in the argument that connection is inevitable, but distraction is a choice.
However, this is not to argue that that choice is something that you make completely independent of any outside influence, nor that your basic freedom to choose absolves Web, game, or hardware companies of any responsibility for their efforts to capture and monetize your attention.
Let me draw a parallel to the subprime mortgage industry: it's both true that people should read the fine print and think hard about their financial situation, and that the industry was perfectly willing to shaft its customers by taking advantage of their ignorance and inability to wade through complex documents and financial models. (The fact that in-house risk models assumed that a certain percentage of new homeowners would fail to make the first payment shows that they knew exactly what they were doing-- selling people things that the company itself knew they could not afford.)