Internet parental control

From: Dempsey or Brown (
Date: Mon Jul 19 1999 - 18:04:00 EDT

At the risk of climbing on up on the slippery side of the soapbox and
also of having to apologize for the length of the attached article,
this is about what I believe on the parental control issue. I doubt
that we can stop folks (even little ones) from getting access to the
"bad stuff" after they have access at all. The problem, as some have
observed, is that many don't have access to any of the stuff and they
may never achieve it. That scares Tony Brown and it scares me far
more than whether or not I have raised kids to laugh at the
ridiculous. Herb Dempsey

THE ARTICLE: by JonKatz on
Monday July 19, @10:00AM EDT from the techno-gap dept.

Forget about dirty pictures. A discouraging government study shows a
rapidly widening gap between Americans who use computers and the Net
and those who don't, despite cheaper computers and easier Net access.
The difference is money, class, race and education.

The founders of the Internet understood from the beginning that the
primary moral issue involving networked computers for America and the
world wasn't dirty pictures but equal access.

If "The Network" was available for the betterment of all minds, wrote
J.C. R. Licklider, a computer pioneer who assigned the Defense
Department research that led to the Net, wrote in l968, then the
"boon to humankind would be beyond measure."

But if the Net became a privilege rather than a right, and only a
favored segment of the population gets a chance to use the
"intelligence amplification" of networked computing, disparities in
intellectual life and economic opportunities would get worse.

Licklider's worry is, and has always been, the seminal moral issue
surrounding the Internet, even if our so-called responsible leaders
and thinkers only seem to think about sex online.

We should be fighting to get kids onto computers. But in l999,
millions of blocking programs are being sold, restricted access to
the Net is a position of almost every national and local political
candidate, and schools and libraries have to fight parents and
politicians to offer Internet access at all. Licklider's issue is
even more timely now than when he raised it.

The Net is no longer a strange technical phenomena, but an integrated
essential of mainstream life: next year, reports the "Computer
Industry Almanac," the United States alone will have 133 million
Internet Users (about 42 per cent of the estimated 318 million global

It would seem logical, even imperative, that society's task is not to
protect people from the Net and the Web, but to make sure everyone
has access to it.

In our loopy, insanely inverted moralistic culture, neither
journalism nor politics pays much attention to growing disparity
between the Wired and the unconnected. But let Johnny get onto the
Playboy website, and government grinds to a halt.

In America, there is no tradition of rational consideration of
technology. We seem only able to focus on the moral issues that don't
matter or are insanely exaggerated. The ones that do matter and are
significant are ignored.
This week, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the disparity
between whites and black and Hispanic Americans who own computers and
use the Net is growing significantly. Among families earning $15,000
to $35,000, more than 33 per cent of whites owned computers, but only
l9 per cent of blacks did.

Ownership of computers is still closely linked to income. Families
with incomes over $75,000 were more than five times as likely to own
a computer at home and 10 times more likely to have Net access than
families who earned less than $10,000. Significantly, gaps in
computer ownership and Net use narrowed between white families and
blacks and Hispanics earning more than $50,000.

A child in a low-income white family is three times more likely to
have Internet access as a child in a comparable black family and four
times more likely than a Hispanic child. People with college degrees
are more than eight times as likely to own a computer and 16 times
more likely to have Net access than people with an elementary school

Technologists who study history have predicted that computers - like
the telephone, TV, electricity and other technological advances -
will inevitably become so inexpensive and ubiquitous that everyone
will have one. Many PC's are already less expensive than many TV's,
and almost every American household now has a television set. The
tube is, in fact, a classic example of how a particular technology
can grow rapidly and spread across racial, age, economic and other
cultural lines.

These optimistic futurists better be right. So far, they're not. It's
the wealthier, better-educated, middle-class Americans who are piling
onto the Net. Tech jobs are the fastest growing employment category
in the world. Net literacy is essential to economic opportunity,
educational research, access to popular culture, and, increasingly,
to economic opportunities from the stock market to competitive
bidding for products, and global, intensely competitive retailing.

Net skills are essential at most colleges, and increasingly, most
good jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that hundreds
of thousands of technology jobs go unfilled, and that approximately
100,000 new ones will be created each year for most of the next
decade. No other sector of the economy offers that kind of long-term
Some of this disparity seems voluntary. The Commerce Department
survey suggests not only a growing gap between whites and minorities
when it comes to computing, it also suggests some resistance to
computing among underclass minorities who might be able to afford

"I really don't think the advantage of being online is being
instilled in them," Trevor Farrington, a director of the
Massachusetts-based African American Internetwork, a Web site aimed
at blacks, told CNN.
"Online banking, investing - that's hotter than pornographic sites
now but it's not being driven home among African Americans. I really
don't think they understand it. They think it's too technical, but
it's as easy to use as TV and it's better. Once they understand that,
it should grow." It should. But will it?
And if it doesn't, will these same minorities wake up in a decade or
so to find themselves and their families at the bottom of the
economic and educational heap.

What's clear is that they aren't going to get much help. The
institutions of technology, government, education and journalism
aren't spending much time or money making sure it the awareness
Farrington talks about does grow and spread. American kids are
bombarded with patronizing, boring, generally-ignored messages about
drugs, drinking, violence and sex but nobody is hiring ad agencies to
spur computer awareness - warnings kids or their parents might act
ually pay attention to and benefit from.

The so-called serious press remains fixated on issues relating to
what they perceive as morality - that is, sex pursued under various
self-righteous guises -- as the Monica Lewinsky nightmare made so
convincingly clear.
Web searches on the subject yield only a handful of links, stories
and writings on the subject of equal computing opportunity and Net
access for all Americans. Try searching for sites and stories on sex,
pornography and computing access for kids if you want to drown in
links and lists.

Yet anybody who knows the Internet knows that kids are much more
endangered in the 21st Century by restricted access to computing and
the Net than they are to exposure to sexual imagery. Net illiteracy
will become - already is - an enormous barrier at almost every stage
of life. Computing skills are a literal passport to the hi-tech
If foregoing computers or the Net is a choice, fair enough. Nobody
should be forced to use computers or browse the Web. But it's a big
enough choice that the people making it deserve to understand the
implications -- especially for their children.

As the Commerce Report suggests, we are, for now, stuck in the
looking glass, living in a country with a governing body that passes
two Communications Decency Acts, but wouldn't dream of even
considering an Internet Access Act.
The irony is that it would be a lot cheaper to give every kid in the
U.S. his or her own computer than hire all the cops it would take to
monitor Net communications for "decency". And it would do a lot more

Good old J.C.R. Licklider got it, even if the people running the
country don't. If everybody gets to use it, The Network could end up
as one of the greatest boons ever to mankind. But if the country
continues to devolve into the favored and the deprived - rich
computer users and poorer, less educated techno-illiterates - he and
his fellow engineers and scientists understood well that they were
participating instead in the making of a social nightmare.

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