Broke at Christmas? Maybe the Digital Divide Isn’t So Bad

Wired, they say, is better. But spending money on tech can leave you with a holiday hangover.

A Best Buy employee on Black Friday, Nov. 28, 2013, in Fairfax, Va.
A Best Buy employee on Black Friday, Nov. 28, 2013, in Fairfax, Va. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 20 percent of what the Pew Internet and Life Project calls “non-Internet users” don’t go online because they can’t afford it, with nearly half of those who don’t have home access citing fiscal reasons. Pew also found that more than a third of Internet users mostly go online through a mobile device, with “cell mostly” rates twice as high among blacks and Latinos as they are for whites.

Once a cash-strapped household gets wired and “triple-played” in every room, the next big challenge is finding the extra money to keep up with the bytes. Not only is there the monthly usage bill (plus taxes), bloated by channel bundles and service providers now charging extra for faster Internet, there is the added pressure of buying the latest tablet, laptop and HDTV to meet new demand and memory speeds. Poorer families, feeling the new squeeze, are avoiding the extra electronic layers of the latest digital fad as best they can, opting for a smartphone-centered life when the flat-screen sale doesn’t stretch far enough. But how much good does that do us in the long run?

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. You can reach him via Twitter.