Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The digital divide is alive and well

I did two volunteer activities recently that happened to fall back to back. On Friday I gave a career day talk at a middle school in Gresham (town east of Portland), one that I've done in past years. On Saturday, I gave a talk to a different group of middle school kids participating in the Oregon Game Project Challenge,

The first of these talks was about video games & tech careers, the latter was about predicting the future in tech (and how such predictions are almost always wrong).

Having the two talks back to back highlighted the disparity in tech knowledge and access that exists across communities even within a (relatively) homogeneous place like the PDX area. Now granted, the OGPC group was self-selected game enthusiasts. But even with that being said, I saw some kids in the hall doing last minute tweaks on their entry, working on a macbook pro while checking references on a Kindle.

Contrast that with the middle school I was at. Last year, the teacher I was working with explained that the schools computers were used almost exclusively for standardized testing, giving no student time for tech access for electives or homework. This year she bashfully showed me the one room of machines they now have for students... why? because the machines are too outdated to run the latest standardize testing platform and other required software. So students without their own machines have shared, part time access to shiny blue twelve year old iMacs. Discouraging to say the least.

Anyhow, given that the Friday talk was to 150 kids, here's an update to the Q&A I gave at the beginning of 98's year's talk:

  • Number of kids who play games: ~98%.
  • Number who have a parent that plays games: ~%50
  • Number who have a grand-parent who plays videogames: :20% (Yes, the Eberts are dying off)
  • Number one title I got questions about: COD:MW2 (2 years ago it was GTA: San Andreas). Someone's not checking those ESRB ratings :-/
  • Surprising number of questions about hardware (which do you think is more powerful, PS3 or 360? Is the PC more powerful? Is iPhone more powerful than PSP? etc)
Anyhow, both talks were fun, but it's always frustrating to see some kids held back because of lack of access to technology.

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