When I walk out of work, my cell phone is able to connect to the network again, and I suddenly get a bunch of tweets. This makes for some interesting juxtapositions – in this case, these two tweets from @dizney_93 and @horrorlitchica:
Dear Students, Can’t find a dictionary. Googled it on my phone = privilege.
Companies yank cord on residential phone books – Yahoo! News http://yhoo.it/bWmApi LOTS of teens in my area w/o computers & cells. Hmmm…
I hate getting residential phonebooks. I don’t think I’ve referenced one since 2005, and even then it was only once or twice a year. I’d much rather get all the metadata (reviews, maps, coupons, alternatives) from looking things up on the web.
But these two tweets so close together reminded me exactly how much privilege I have – and how much privilege is practically required to be successful these days.
Search costs for finding employers are so much lower when you’ve got the internet. Many people – myself included – are almost impossible to get on the phone, but very easy to reach via e-mail and twitter. Familiarity, not only with the technology, but with the social conventions of these networks has become vital social status markers for better jobs.
I remember when a second phone line was a prohibitive expense and those darn teenagers who kept talking on it reduced the employability status of the household. If you didn’t have a phone – even in the 70’s – there was the presumption that there was something wrong with you. Now, the internet and cell phones have largely taken up that role.
I’d argue that along with decent transportation, connectivity is a key component in employability today. But is it more expensive? Maybe inflation makes a difference. I looked at two different inflation calculators, here and here.
In 1970 dollars, the laptop I’m writing this post on would cost $104. ($200 in 1980’s dollars.) My monthly internet access fees would cost just under $7 in 1970’s dollars and about $15 in 1980’s dollars.
But what all this obscures is that lower-end wages have not kept pace with inflation. In 1970, minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. In 1980, it was $3.10. This graph shows that the real value of minimum wage has gone down since the late 60’s. This table shows the same thing in exact numbers.
So you’ve got a key component of “making it” in today’s society where the prices keep pace with inflation – but the sectors of our society that could reap more benefit from it are not getting paychecks necessary to keep up.
It’s possible to get online (high-speed; dialup just doesn’t count anymore) for about $40 a month in 2010, and you can get internet-capable machines for $300-$500. Maybe that is a workable solution – get those “old” 500 mHz or 1Ghz machines, slap Ubuntu (or Xbunutu) on them. (Can you tell I’m impressed with the out-of-the-box usability of Ubuntu?)
Without some kind of solution, we are actively making it harder for those already down on their luck to work their way to success.