Complicating access: Gateways to the literacies of technology

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Department of Humanities


For more than 20 years, U.S. educators have known that access to computers plays a key role in when, how, if, and to what extent students acquire and develop those skills and values associated with digital, or electronic, literacy. Educators have also been aware that access to computers in this nation has remained aligned, in persistent and embarrassing ways, along the related axes of race and class. The statistical data documenting this trend indicate that students of color and poor students have been much less likely to have access to computer technology during the last two decades of the 20th century, both at home and at school, than have White students or students from families of privilege. Furthermore, the race-based gap characterizing families’ computer ownership in the United States increased, rather than decreased, from 1999 to 2000.

Unfortunately for classroom teachers in the United States, these statistics, by themselves, provide little useful information about the real complexities of access as a social phenomenon. They indicate how many students lack access to computer technology, but not how to address this situation. Nor do they provide much useful information about how the lack of access to computers shapes the daily, lived experiences of individual young people and their families. Such statistics do not explain, for example, whether improved access to computers in the later grades of secondary school or in college can counteract the effects of limited access in the early grades of elementary school. Nor do the statistics help teachers determine which specific conditions of access are particularly salient, even necessary, for people who want to develop digital literacy at various times in their lives.

Publication Title

Literate Lives in the Information Age: Narratives of Literacy From the United States