On Missing the Mark and Technological Privilege

I grew up super poor.  It was a fact I was always very conscious of, especially when I lived in better school districts and ended up in a lot of advanced classes.  Teachers would require us to do this project or that, always something silly that required a piece of poster board and some glitter paint, and I would cringe inside at the inevitable response my mother and father would have:  “Well, how do you expect us to pay for that?”  Even ten dollars can feel like a huge amount of money when you have nothing.

So I’m probably hypersensitive to the idea that not everyone has access to computers and the internet.  After all, I was the kid who in high school spent all my time at the library typing up my papers, because not only did my school not have a computer lab until my senior year, but because I didn’t have a computer at home.  My local library, with its one computer for patrons, was a very important part of my life.

Which is why this article about “Cheer on Reading” made me so very angry.

Not everyone has access to technology, and it makes me sad that this year’s campaign has missed the mark.  Cheerios is a great platform to increase literacy, mostly because of the fact that Cheerios are a cereal everyone has access to.  WIC coupons and SNAP both cover Cheerios, so the chances that an extremely low income family will buy Cheerios as their breakfast cereal is high.  And even if they don’t, they theoretically could.  But the chances that those same families will have an ereader are not as high. 

And this is something I see more and more in our quest to streamline our world, we forget to ask ourselves the question of who has access.  Who can benefit from the process?  It’s great that Cheer on Reading is donating money to First Book and other organizations, but again the question of access.  And really, that has to be the first question any non-profit or charitable cause has to ask itself: are the people I’m trying to help going to have access to my services?  If not, how do I get them that access?

I see this in a lot of conversations talking about marginalized authors self-publishing.  Self-publishing paper books can be very expensive, and only some people have access to ebooks.  Either way these are costs that have to be passed on to someone.  Is someone really going to buy your thirty dollar picture book? Or are they going to buy a four dollar Monsters, Inc. book instead?

This is also something I don’t see addressed nearly enough in the sci-fi and fantasy I read: who has access to the technology/education in your world?  What stops them from being able to attend?  What are the ways around it?  Middle class and upper class characters never have to worry about these sorts of things, but at some point in their life they should meet someone who does.  Unfortunately, unless you’re Jack and the Beanstalk, poverty tends to get erased from stories just as much as blackness.  And I think that is also a problem.

By now you’re saying:  What’s your point, Justina?

I don’t know.  Just something to think about, I guess.