Does technology lend itself to a more equitable society? In a word, no.

Does technology lend itself to a more equitable society? In a word, no.

The issue at debate here is whether technology has led to a more equitable society. Before delving in, it is important to understand that equity is not the same thing as equality.  Equality means that everyone gets the same thing, and equity means that people get what they need to be on equal footing with others. So, in terms of technology providing equity, it must mean that marginalized people can access the technologies necessary to place themselves within a more equitable position in society. It is such a lovely and well-intentioned idea, but it is simply not the case.

You see, in theory technology definitely has the potential to help to level the playing field for many people, but in reality it falls short. I recently listened to a debate on this topic in my EC&I 830: Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology (#ECI830) class titled, Technology has led to a more equitable society. Although both sides of the debate made convincing arguments, my opinion on the matter remains unchanged, technology does not necessarily bring about equity, and can even create greater disparities . During the debate, the “agree” side pointing out how advances in medical technology have provided a greater quality of life for many people. Technology has certainly helped to advance medicine. Whereas the against side chose to highlight how different socio-economic status determines access to technology, thus creating what has been referred to as “The Digital Divide”.

Technology is often limited to those who can afford it, and those who are familiar with it. This leaves out a significant portion of society. When schooling went online during the pandemic, those who were fortunate enough to have access to technology could still participate in class and gain instruction via Zoom or Google Meet. Those students who did not have access to technology, and there were many at the school where I work, were sent home paper work packets to complete on their own. I don’t think I need to explain the disparity in quality of education here.

As far as medicine goes,  I will agree that advances in medical technology have allowed people to live longer lives, and for some to live a better quality of life than they may have prior to technology, but only if they have the access to that technology. Assistive technology like glasses, wheel chairs, hearing aids and scooters can be expensive, or hard to obtain. Not only that, but I have to ask, does having a better quality of life than you would without technology actually constitute equity? I’m not inclined to think so. My niece has a rare disease called IgA Nephropathy,  she is still alive, and has some quality of life thanks to advancements in medicine, like dialysis, which do the work of her kidney. So whether she gets a transplant, or whether bio-artificial kidneys become a reality, it will be thanks to technology. 

Yet, my niece was diagnosed when she was ten, she is now twenty-one. She has spent the last decade feeling sick daily, spending time at doctors and specialist appointments, having medical tests done, taking a cocktail of pills each day, having multiple operations, hospital visits, emergency room visits, and ambulance rides. Has her life experience been equitable with her peers? No. My niece has been granted a life, but she’s also had to watch her friends from the sidelines doing all the things that children and teens normally do like sleepovers with friends, participating in school plays and sports, and going to dances and parties. I am so grateful for the technology that has allowed her to be here with us, but I do wish with all my heart that she could have had a “normal” childhood and continued to do all the things she enjoyed before she got sick. No amount of technology will or can change that, just like no amount of technology will erase systemic racism.

So, in the end, while technology has the potential to bring equity to society, it falls rather flat. 

4 thoughts on “Does technology lend itself to a more equitable society? In a word, no.

  1. Hi Jessica. Thank you for your thoughtful blog post.

    I think that technology has incredible potential, but that potential has yet to be realized for many people. As you point out access prevents many from enjoying its benefits creating a large gap between the have and have nots. I think it is important for people to realize when we argue that technology does create equity we are not suggesting that technology has not helped students throughout the world, rather we are saying that all students should have access to these technologies. I worry that people misinterpret the messaging. It is like saying that a person who is underpaid wants everyone around them to be underpaid, when reality they just want to be treated as well as their peers and have their barriers removed (the solution is for the low salary worker to get a raise and to be treated better, not cut the salaries of everyone they know down to the same level).

  2. Hey Jessica,

    Great lens to look at this with! I appreciate you defining equality and equity at the beginning. We all need to be reminded of those definitions!

    I also liked how you outlined: “Technology is often limited to those who can afford it, and those who are familiar with it. This leaves out a significant portion of society.” I think you could also add have access too! Individuals could have the money and sense but not have the means to access technology.

    Finally, I liked the contrast to medical technology. Education technology and medical technology are not the same, but both fall “flat” when it comes to systemic issues!

  3. Hi Jessica!
    I really enjoyed how you started your blog by first separating the two words; equity and equality. Sometimes these words get confused! Within online education I tend to not have to worry as much about whether students have technology or WIFI at home as if they were not they would not be learning from this platform. That being said we have non-base students that are from other schools that do not have access to technology or WIFI at home. How is this equitable? Addressing your point made about “technology being limited to those that can afford it”, creates a digital divide and I could not agree with you more about these barriers in place for marginalized people. Those students that did not have access to technology during the pandemic and instead had paper packets (being left to their own devices) widened the inequity gap. I also believe that technology does not make society more equitable, conversely I do believe tech has helped inclusivity for people with disabilities for example. We have along ways to go before technology makes for a more equitable society, and I still do not see this in our classrooms with various socioeconomic status’.

    Thank you for your perspective on the topic, and I enjoyed your blog post.

  4. Like the other commenters, I too appreciate how you opened your blog post explaining the difference between equity and equality. Even though they are sometimes used interchangeably, they in fact mean two separate things.

    I do not think that technology has made society more equal in any way, and in fact, has created some major gaps more than ever. As teachers, we can only do what we can within the resources we are given to use in terms of technology. And that can be something that is very hard to digest.

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