Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Can the Gender Gap Lessen the Digital Divide?

Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Can the Gender Gap Lessen the Digital Divide?

Article excerpt

Understanding how men and women interact with technology is an important step to learning how it can work for everyone.

My younger brother Matt fell in love with computers at an early age, and in the company of a few male friends, he spent every waking moment building and programming them, pushing those early Apple IIs and Commodore 64s as fast and as far as they would go. It was a guy thing.

Matt's daughter, Kelly, is in seventh grade this year. She has been playing with computers since before she could walk, and now she moves as fluidly through the online world as she does off. She does her homework on the computer, chats with her friends, keeps up with the boy bands she loves passionately, reports on fashion trends for her favorite Web site, and regularly whips her dad at the millennium version of PacMan. Now, it's a girl thing.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SURFING Kelly and Matt are far from unique. Boys and girls are now online in equal numbers, according to Children, Families and the Internet 2000, a new report by Grunwald Associates. And in 1999, for the first time, the number of mothers online is poised to outstrip the number of dads. The report shows differences in the amount of time boys and girls spend online, and what they do there. Girls are crazy for e-mail, chat, and school-focused research; boys play a few more games and are marginally more likely to pursue "informal learning," such as research and communication around hobbies on the Web. Among older teens, girls drop back a bit with less frequent computer use. Overall, though, the Internet is on its way to becoming a gender-blind medium. But will the digital divide between male and female close definitively?

SEEKING GIRL GEEKS While males and females are equally represented among consumers on the Internet, the gaps are great and growing. The percentage of women in technical jobs is holding steady at 28 percent, even while women's presence in the workplace as a whole has increased to almost 50 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the Institute for Women and Technology, www.iwt.org, recently reported that the number of women graduating with bachelor's degrees in computer science has actually dropped from 40 percent to just more than 27 percent. …

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