The 21st century is truly here. Aren’t you tired of hearing that phrase? It’s 2017 and you will hear utterances of the “21st century” from time to time on TV or in print. We are victims of it in education as well when we talk about “21st century learning skills”. It’s almost as if some people feel that we aren’t quite in the 21st century yet, while we plow aimlessly two decades into a new century.
Yet, walk into any coffee shop, library, or university and notice the numerous devices that we carry with us wherever we go. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, hotspots, and Bluetooth devices can be found everywhere and it’s astonishing. Each of us may carry up to three devices on us at any given time, which requires some sort of wireless connectivity. The 21st century is all around us and we are plugged into it.
And we want the freedom to connect anywhere at anytime. We get annoyed when we have to pay for wireless access in public places (i.e., some airports) and quickly check our devices to see if the restaurant or department store we are patronizing has free wireless access. We want to be able to quickly Google the price of an item, stream our favorite song, or send a text or email to someone without thinking twice.
Wireless access is now part of the common construct of our routines. We need it, trust it, and rely on it to manage our lives and provide us access to information.
I have often advocated for free public wireless, ubiquitous across cities and towns, and accessible from anywhere at anytime as we travel, shop, and attend schools. Cellular companies would certainly have an issue with that statement. Nonetheless, having the freedom to connect to the World Wide Web when we need to is simply essential to life and should not be reserved only for those who can afford it.
I have mentioned before the need for members of the educational community to work towards solutions to close the equity gap. The equity gap refers to students, who mostly live in poverty, who do not have the same access to wireless technology and access points as students with affluent means. Low income students are more likely to own mobile devices with shared data plans, which limits their access to information that requires significant data load (i.e., video and audio).
As more low income students enter college, their need to access and acclimate to a wireless and mobile environment is significant. The ability to connect and use mobile devices should be commonplace for everyone but especially for students whose introduction to using technology on a regular basis could be when they enter college for the first time.
As 19th and 20th century libraries were (and are) free to everyone with the purpose to provide the public with access to information and knowledge, 21st century information has taken a different shape. Technology has changed the way we think about and access information and it should not be reserved simply for those who have means. Freedom is preserved in our ability to use information to make sound decisions in order to secure our future. Freedom to access information anywhere and anytime is the key to ensuring our freedom can endure.