When I taught an e-book unit to my Grade 3/4 class earlier this year, one of the drawbacks of the technical age was readily apparent to them. The high cost of techie devices would give those who could afford to pay an unfair advantage. How would those who can’t afford to pay make use of this marvellous technology?
You’d think that in this era of $50 tablets, we’ve solved that problem. But as this Toronto Star article distressingly points out, device cost is not the only factor. The true Achilles heel of affordable e-books? It’s the high cost of the Internet.
When the chief content officer of Netflix famously compared Canada’s internet infrastructure to a third world country, many people shrugged it off. But the Star article highlights a single mom who was paying upwards of $100 a month for her home internet, and had to cancel it because it was more than she would afford. From the article:
“‘I just couldn’t afford it anymore,’ said Wright, 25, a personal support worker who earns about $1,700 a month after taxes and pays more than $1,200 a month in rent. ‘I don’t want my daughter to fall behind in school,’ Wright said. ‘But it’s not always easy to get to the library to help her with her homework.’”
Over $100 a month—think about that! The woman could buy two Fore tablets—every month!—for what she was spending on just the Internet she would need to use them! And yes, you could go to a wi-fi hot spot and download books to read off-line. But that takes a level of planning ahead that most people can’t conceive of digitally. If you have to go physically to another location in order to get the book you need, are you really doing anything differently from the paper days?
And what about features such as on-board Wikipedia, and baked-in language translation? Yup, you need wi-fi for those. I am such a fan of the convenience and versatility of the e-book format, but I must sadly admit that many of the aspects I enjoy about it are truly hobbled when you aren’t online. I like being able to impulse buy at four in the morning. I like the ability to tap on a hyperlink and open up extra content right from within the book. I take my home internet for granted. I pay less than $100 because I use an alternative provider, and that has its own share of difficulties. But I take it for granted. I am blessed that the Beloved and I are doing okay enough that we can afford both Internet and content to obtain with it. We have to understand that this is not a given.
Related: Why can’t the media understand the digital divide—especially the Associated Press, commentary by David Rothman.
Image credit: Here. “Photograph of the statue of Death of Achilles. Taken in the Achilleion Gardens, Corfu.”