I came across this article on the NY Times website about what is called the “app gap”– the growing difference between the number of mobile educational apps being used by children in wealthy households as opposed to low income households. They cite a new study that had some interesting results:
…. almost half the families with incomes above $75,000 had downloaded apps specifically for their young children, compared with one in eight of the families earning less than $30,000. More than a third of those low-income parents said they did not know what an “app” — short for application — was.
When I first read this article, there was part of me that wanted to roll my eyes and attribute this “app gap” to our modern obsession with technology. But then I thought back to the discussion in class about privilege and who gets to create norms. I would argue that the people who have the power to set the norms are generally white and upper or upper middle class. As these more affluent families expose their kids to a plethora of technologies, it can become solidified into a norm. For example, my three year old nephew loves to play Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies on my sister’s iPad. He’s not very good at them, obviously, but he’s still thrilled every time he hits a pig. The fact that no one in my family looks at this as strange speaks to how much of a norm it’s becoming. There’s also immense privilege tied into who gets access to technology. iPads, computers, smartphones, and iPods are all very expensive, so it makes sense that children coming from families who make $75,000+ use these products more. This could be taken a step further and extended into schools. Kids from wealthy families live in wealthy neighborhoods and go to wealthy schools, where there is much more technological integration in the classroom than in poor neighborhoods.
While this article does have valid points, it’s not without its problems. I think it’s strange how this article (and the study cited) ignores the racial component of the “app gap” findings. It almost feels like this article is part of the “color blind” ideology we spoke about in class. By the time I finished reading, I was surprised that there was no mention of whether people of color were more likely than white people to fall on the negative side of the “app gap”. To me, this seems like an obvious question to explore. People of color are more likely to fall into the study’s category of “families earning less than $30,000” and therefore would probably be more likely to have less access to educational apps for toddlers and young children. This gap cannot only be analyzed as structural inequality in terms of class, but also must be looked at as inequality in terms of race because these two categories are inextricably tied.
Another problem I have with this article, and the study it’s based on, is that while yes, wealthier children are using more educational apps, there is no supporting evidence given to show that these apps are benefiting them. The article doesn’t explicitly say it’s helpful for children to be exposed to apps, but it feels like that’s the implicit suggestion. For all we know, staring at an iPad screen on the couch or in mommy’s/daddy’s lap could be harmful for these toddlers in some way. This is not to say that I think low income children are at an advantage by not having access to newer technologies, just that we shouldn’t assume having tons of smartphone apps is beneficial for a toddler.