Most Americans think about the digital divide in terms of the gap between developing countries around the world versus Westernized countries. But the digital divide does not merely relate to countries with less access to the internet.
Internet access has mainly been limited since its beginnings and continues to be a point of contention among equal rights activists around the world – including in places like the United States. This is also something that Darien Dash, the CEO of the first black and publicly-owned internet company, has taken upon himself to remedy.
Why is Internet Access For All Important?
The digital divide still plagues the United States, and it is especially prevalent in rural and inner-city areas. Access to the internet plagues people of all races, genders, and ages, people of color suffer greatly when they don’t receive the same type of access to the internet. Pew Internet research information points out that although the digital divide has evolved over the years, it has not lessened.
Today, young and educated African Americans have access to smartphones, computers, and the internet. However, African Americans who don’t go to college or who are elderly still have limited internet and technology access.
Lacking access to technology is one step backward, and this is hugely apparent within school settings. Research has shown that lack of access to resources, which in this digital age includes technology, means continued poverty in most cases.
Peter Temin, an economist investigating poverty, recently addressed the fact that it takes twenty years of nothing going wrong – no late payments, no surprise expenses, and no docked or missing pay – for people to escape the cycle of poverty. Being able to make on-time payments and avoid issues with bills is relatively easy for people with economic means or connections.
There are consistent issues with escaping the cycle of poverty when it comes to people with fewer connections. The internet is one of those connections that allows wealthier people to receive access to the things they need.
Applying for jobs without having to consistently go to a public library to use computers, the ability to keep your resume updated, and the ability to answer calls for extra work all impact a person’s ability to succeed financially in the digital age. Therefore, having limited access to a computer, the internet, or a smartphone significantly impacts a person’s ability to better their financial situation.
How Darien Dash Helped Equalize the Internet
Darien Dash did not begin his career thinking he would be working with technology, but eventually, that is where it ended. He grew up in a household that focused its talents in show business. His stepfather was the executive of Casablanca records. Darien Dash started in the record business, where he worked alongside big names in black music. Working with role models such as Jay-Z and other influential rappers and hip-hop artists brought some things to his attention. For one, he noticed that people listened to the celebrities they respected.
Dash started DME interactive holdings in 1994, and the company went public five years later. In 2000, after a successful startup, DME interactive holdings created Places of Color, which helped African Americans receive a less expensive version of AOL’s CompuServe 2000 software. CompuServe is outdated today, but at the time, it provided tools that were necessary in a bourgeoning technological world. Access to CompuServe changed the nature of the digital divide, but the divide still exists today.
What Darien Dash learned from working with big names in show business was the power of role models. He applied the power of celebrity role models to his digital aspirations. Darien Dash created a black-owned internet company, but he didn’t stop there. One of the most significant issues with equalizing the internet comes from the lack of representation within digital communities.
Creating a different internet company was only the start of getting African American communities involved in digital work. It was essential to get the attention of people within communities impacted by the digital divide, which was done with the help of crucial figures in the African American community at the time.
After starting his company, Dash went to the highest levels of the United States government to address the digital divide. He pointed out the problems with specific communities being unable to access technology, as well as the responsibility that the United States Government had when it comes to investing in struggling communities. The impetus to create better access to digital states should never be placed solely on the shoulders of businesses, especially independent and minority-owned businesses.
Instead, because the digital divide exists because of the structure of the country, it is also up to the power structures that created that divide. By getting the government and influential figures on board with addressing the issues with access to technology within African American communities, there is a higher chance that legislation will eventually get passed that addresses the issue and systematically wipes out the problems associated with the digital divide.
Investing in Diverse Internet is Investing in Equality
It is impossible today to enter the workforce without access to the internet. Job applications require an email and phone number. Even with a landline, it’s very easy to miss out on crucial job-related phone calls, putting those without 24/7 access to the internet in a tight spot if they are looking for a job. Applying for jobs is only one small example of how access to technology is critical. Without technology access, it is nearly impossible to start and run a small business, better educational statuses, and more.
The United States prides itself on equality, but there are still long strides to take when it comes to justice in the digital sphere. Investing in technology, like Darien Dash and DME Holdings did and continue to do, means that you are not only invested in the future of technology but in the lives of those it impacts.