The assumption about universal Internet access among Americans likely left some of the most enthusiastic Michael Jackson fans without the opportunity to enter the lottery for tickets to the memorial services being held today in Los Angeles. Registering for the lottery could only be done online and many millions of Americans don’t have Internet access in their homes. Worse yet, because registration was confined to the dates of July 3rd and July 4th, most public access points would have been inaccessible due to holiday closings at public libraries and other locations. Adding insult to injury, these constraints of online access are very much unequally distributed among the population leaving certain types of people – for example, African Americans – much less likely to have had the opportunity to enter the drawing.
Talking about the digital divide – or the differences between the technological haves and have-nots – is passé conjuring up seemingly outdated debates of the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact remains that a big portion of Americans continues to live without Internet access at home or often without any Internet use anywhere. According to the
latest figures (2007) from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, over 38% of American households report no home Internet use. Broken down by race and ethnicity, close to 55% of African American households and over 56% of Hispanic households do not report home Internet usage. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has more
recent figures confirming that large numbers of Americans continue to be disconnected with Blacks and Hispanics less likely to be online than Whites and Asian Americans.
Having the chance to win a ticket to the Michael Jackson memorial services required Internet access at several levels. First, one had to access a Web site on July 3rd or July 4th to sign up for the drawing. Second, entering the lottery required an email address. Third, in order to find out about winning, one would have to check email on Sunday, July 5th to see about winner notification.
So how come we’ve seen no buzz over this topic? Buzz these days seems to come from online discussions and by definition, the people being excluded in this process are not online. They don’t run searches on Google, they don’t use Twitter, they don’t blog and consequently what’s on their minds does not show up in data about trending topics online. This is just one example of how the voices of those not online and the positions they represent are systematically excluded from conversation and public discussions. Millions of Americans are not online and this is just one example of the many opportunities from which they are systematically excluded on a daily basis due to this constraint.
Of course, there is no basic right associated with a chance to attend the Michael Jackson memorial services, but the rhetoric suggesting that anyone could enter the contest is problematic and perpetuates assumptions about how universal Internet use is in this country.