Being connected is important. Getting access to technology to connect can be easy or difficult depending on your circumstances. You are living paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to make rent, payments on utilities, car and insurance, and afford groceries. This is not new, it has been the way things are for years. Now you need a computer, tablet, or smart phone only to be reminded that your checking account balance is always too short to do anything about it. What do you do?
Large numbers of people are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Others are struggling without the benefit of income at all. When you look at the poverty rate in the US, some 46 million people are in poverty today. Those that get out of poverty and enter the workforce may join at a time when the US labor force participation rate is so low that about 90 million people are struggling with getting or keeping a job. Whether you are in poverty, struggling with employment, debt, and income, you may yet find yourself part of the large segment of the population with a low enough credit score as to be considered a person with bad credit.
To summarize, millions of people have problems with one or more of the following: Poverty, Jobs, Income, and Credit. People in this category may have significant problems getting the technology they need to move up in society. They may even struggle to get the technology at a level to keep pace with society at large.
What are the solutions for you if you are either poor, ineligible for credit, or lacking the income necessary to get the technology tools necessary to participate in modern society?
Education is Necessary but a Challenge
More people are headed to college which traditionally improves upon life outcomes. Education is so important that it will take decisive action to make it more accessible and beneficial to more people. Many ideas are on the table to define better solutions for education. One of the challenges in education is making the right choices for education technology. You can read about my general overview about the choice ahead for education technology and the digital divide. Wherever you stand on education in the 21st century or the right approach for getting an education or delivering education, affordability is one of main factors to consider.
Affordable Smart Phones
One of the engines of growth behind the adoption of smart phones is subsidies by telecom corporations. Millions of customers have acquired $400 to $900 phones covered under multiple year contracts where the cost of the device is paid over several years by the customer. When paying on the contract monthly, the customer gets access to advanced smart phone technology and communication features. The result is that millions of people on limited incomes were allowed to have access to technology they would otherwise not have. Without the telecom subsidies, millions of people would be without smart phone technology.
Today, millions of people are getting tablet computers because the cost can be as low as $99. That is still a lot of money for anyone that has a low salary, paid all their bills, and still need gas, grocery and lunch money to stretch for the next 4 weeks. However, the $99 dollar price point is still accessible to millions of people. Save up just a bit more and you might get a tablet that is decent enough that it will not fall apart after 6 months to a year. That can represent a huge technological advancement for an individual. However, the $99 dollar tablet business can still be a tough business, but the $199 dollar tablet business can be pretty strong. Affordable tablets will remain a huge need for many people for as long as economic conditions warrant.
When it comes to connecting or learning, smart phones are very useful, but computers have higher values for sustained activities requiring input and the intersection of multiple technologies and ways of processing information. People involved in technology may enjoy a debate about which is the better technology among Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Others try do decide who makes the best computers, but eventually most technology has limits. However, for millions of people the real question is can they even afford a computer. For this reason alone we need to have multiple choices in the computer industry.
Choosing Between Today’s Choices
Many computers are available today. This is good. There are pros and cons to the choices out there. In general, I see the tradeoffs as such:
Apple (Phones, Tablets, and Computers)
- The Good
- Excellent hardware, great longevity and a highly tuned software environment
- Tremendous potential from a overall stability and performance standpoint
- The maker of Mac really do care about the total design of the machine and software
- The Contrary
PC (IBM compatible, Intel/AMD machines, Microsoft Surface)
- The Good
- Extremely flexible in that a PC can bring many ideas into reality
- Many choices mean you can get just the power and capacity you want or need
- Provides opportunities for nearly everyone who gets one (Internet knowledge or creation)
- Entry level tech people and veteran techs alike have a platform to keep growing in knowledge
- The Other
- Security challenges, energy requirements versus capability, and limited software
- Usability versus evolution of technology
- Inhibitions to cannibalize legacy versus new breakthroughs
Android (Phones and Tablets)
- The Good
- Works on dozens of devices which equals more choices
- Many of the same core benefits of a PC but in a mobile form
- The open design allows the tinkers to introduce new ideas that eventually improves things
- The Contrary
- Security issues and limited hardware at the low end of the scale
- Third-party support may be too limited with Internet forums as the best choice
- Poor hardware build quality may diminish the long-term value of the device
When you read the list of pros and cons above you may say to yourself that a given point is important or another point is unimportant. Among technologically involved persons, the various attributes can be quite consuming in terms of conversation. Very astute consumers may even rally behind certain of the attributes listed. However, if you are struggling to make ends meet, put someone or yourself through college, keep the bills up month to month then there is one clear consideration. That consideration is can you even get a device in the first place and how much financial pain will you have to endure to get connected and participate in the digital economy?
With poverty, unemployment, and consumer debt being such as they are, the first consideration is the affordability of technology. Technology billed as the best, despite the fine print or reality of the claim, stands as irrelevant if you either cannot afford it or afford to have it fixed. That is to say that besides the expense of some technologies are concerns about flexibility, freedom, and ease of change that may be lost in the pursuit of perfection. For most people affordability, longevity, hardware/software flexibility, hardware/software modification and ease of repair are top issues when dealing with technology.
Millions of people struggling with work, finances, or getting ahead benefit from having choices. Choices that make technology present in their lives, connects them to the global Internet, and provides them the freedom to learn, explore, and experiment. Experiences that can lead to a better understanding of the ways of operating in modern society.
Technologically, computers have evolved a long ways. I used to look at computers from the standpoint of software but in later years, I shifted emphasis to hardware. Hardware is what runs software and that tends to be the main thing that is purchased. Affordability of hardware is pertinent to those that require the opportunity to participate in digital technology. Is there a future in Microsoft Windows? Who knows other than those who support it in corporations. Microsoft tech may even have a huge future in the cloud. However, for the general user of Microsoft Windows or Google ChromeBooks, affordable PC hardware can later be re-purposed with open source software. This can be of enormous long-term benefit to those without the means for an upgrade by any other means.
Larger Issue of Technology Affordability
Millions of people will continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck and require computer devices that imparts more opportunity to their efforts. Those of us fortunate enough to understand computers at a deeper level may place our endorsement on those systems that also involve a higher upfront acquisition cost. Under the circumstances of corporate computing and high income consumer markets may those concerns seem particularly relevant. However, for the higher numbers of those that need technology and the chance to participate in the digital environment more successfully, a conversation and emphasis of a different kind may be particularly appropriate. A conversation that include good quality devices accessible to nearly the entire planet.
By Michael Gautier