Volunteering: Value or Esteem Enhancement?
By: Leo Gumapas
    In this day and age, the Internet has become a tool that has broken barriers between people allowing them “to do what they are genetically programmed to do: communicate with one another” (Dewitt 6).  Despite the wonders the Internet has allowed people to do, it has set up a technological gap, leaving millions of people who do not have access to the Internet too far behind to participate. Several attempts are being made to help bridge the gap between the two social classes in an endeavor to provide Internet access to the less fortunate.  Bridging the technological gap between the two social classes will help eliminate one of the nation’s biggest social issues—poverty. 


    Is it really “our” moral obligation to provide Internet access for the less fortunate?   The concept where people of “highersocial status” have a special responsibility to help those in need is known as noblesse oblige.  This special responsibility to serve the public possesses hidden intentions that boost one’s self-worth and confidence.  Through Bill Clinton’s campaign in closing the technological gap, he is hoping to end the poverty that occurs in “our” nation.  President Clinton feels as though it is “our” responsibility to become involved in providing Internet access for those in need, and this special responsibility is a form of noblesse oblige.   Bridging the technological gap is a modern example of this concept where people of “higher social status” help those that are less fortunate than them in order to enhance one’s self-esteem. 

Concept of Noblesse Oblige 
    According to the Oxford English Dictionary the French Phrase, noblesse oblige, “suggests nobility ancestry constrains to honorable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility” (X: 453).  The use of this phrase throughout history suggests a special type of arrogance that makes the nobles feel as though they are high and mighty.  For example, in 1864, the English Oxford
dictionary illustrates the arrogance associated with noblesse oblige by providing the following quote: “Do you think I can let you go scot free instead of myself? No; noblesse oblige.  Go to the shades, old man” (X: 453).  The noble quoting the sentence originally disagreed about setting the old man free, but because of noblesse oblige it became his duty to exercise
“honorable behavior.”  The quote clarifies the arrogance associated with the phrase, noblesse oblige, by showing how the person quoting the sentence assumes he/she is all high and mighty because the old man, who is less fortunate, needs the noble to set him free. 

     In Kathleen McCarthy’s research on “Philanthropy,” she defines it as the promotion of human welfare achieved through the donation of money or service.  Philanthropic ideals are another form of noblesse oblige where people of “higher status” are expected to help those in need.  In ancient Greece and Rome, for example, the wealthy citizens were expected to provide public amenities such as baths and meeting places that enhances the quality of community life.  The concept that wealthy citizens are expected to exercise honorable behavior emphasizes noblesse oblige in Ancient Rome and Greece.  Religious conversions to Christ can also be seen as forms of noblesse oblige.  In America, for example, a religious orientated
philanthropic movement emerged where Cotton Mather, Massachusetts’s clergyman, argued, “that everyone should play a role in aiding the poor and strengthening society” (McCarthy 1).  Noblesse oblige is exhibited in religious conversions because the clergyman believes it is his “duty” to help those who do not know Christ.  In a way, the clergyman is demonstrating noblesse oblige because he is trying to help people that do not know Christ by enlightening them and converting them to a more “superior” religion and having the converted people to forget their religion, ideals, and culture. 

Fundamental Basis of Volunteering 

     In David G. Meyer’s book Social Psychology 6th edition, he explains the fundamental reasons why people perform altruistic deeds through case studies and research done by other people.  Helping others has been proven as a disguised self-interest that possesses internal and external rewards as a result.  For example, when businesses donate money to improve
their corporate images or when someone offers another a ride hoping to receive appreciation or friendship, the rewards are external, and we give to get.  Performing altruistic acts increase our sense of self worth, and the reward is internal.  In Jane Piliavin’s research, blood donors donate blood because it “makes you feel good about yourself” and “gives you a feeling of
self-satisfaction” (Meyers 475).  In Mark Snyder, Allen Omoto, and Gil Clary’s research, they discovered six motives to why people volunteer: values; to act on humanitarian values and concern for others, understanding; to learn about people or learn skills, social; to be part of a group and gain approval, career; to enhance job prospects with experience and contacts, ego
protection; to reduce guilt or escape personal problems, esteem enhancement; to boost self-worth and confidence. (Meyers 475).  The sixth motive into why people volunteer illustrates the fundamental reason of noblesse oblige.  Noblesse oblige is an esteem enhancement that increases one’s self-worth and confidence.  By having the nobles help those in need, they envision that they are elite and that the people who are in poverty need their assistance.  The noble’s feel in their mind a sense of esteem enhancement, a boost of self-worth and confidence, because a lesser class needs them. 

The Technological Divide 

     In the Age of Information, the Internet has become a way to gain access quickly and easily to variety of forms of information.  It is believed that the Internet can resolve one of “our” nation’s biggest social issues—poverty.  Tracy Kaufman introduces Franklin Delano Roosevelt in her article “Poverty Housing Defeats Families,” and he quotes “The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much.  It is whether we provide enough to those who have little” (1).  Roosevelt’s quote brings up the fact that helping people in need helps make a stronger U.S. economy.  Providing Internet access to people in need can make a stronger U.S. economy by resolving the social issue of poverty that is occurring in “our” nation. 

    The explosive growth of the Internet has resulted in an ever so growing technological gap, called the “digital divide,” between two groups of people: the technological haves and the technological have nots.  According to Phillip Elmer-Dewitt’s article, “Welcome to Cyberspace,” he comments that the Internet “requires access to both a computer and a high-speed
telecommunications link, it is out of reach for millions of people too poor or too far from a major communications hub to participate”  (8).  Trying to decide whom the “digital divide” affects and how to resolve the situation is still in great debate. 

Actions to Resolve the Technological Divide 

    There are factors that make up the division between the have and have-nots.  Governmental surveys have shown the primary factor between the divisions of the two is based on race, while academic and industrial analysts say “Internet access is much more closely tied to income and education than race” (Irvine 2).   In Martha Irvine’s article “Defining the Digital Divide,” she introduces Charles Ellison, co-founder of a new Website, politicallyblack.com, and he quotes: “The digital divide is just as much about poor, rural whites as it is African-Americans” (Irvine 2).  The government’s main tactic to closing the “technological gap” is to get computers in the schools.  Despite the fact, since 1996, Congress has spent $5 billion on efforts to get public schools and libraries the wiring they need to have Internet access, not every child in school has access to the Internet.  Martha Irvine introduces Michael Kaufman, who heads Tequity, an organization that is helping 60 computer lab schools in Mississippi, Detroit, and Los Angeles, and he quotes: “In poorer communities, the wires are often left dangling in the walls” (Irvine 2).  Some experts say that it will talk another $20 billion in government funding to get computers in schools and teachers trained. 

Bill Clinton Takes Action 

    In Sonya Ross’s article, “Bridging the Digital Gap,” Bill Clinton believes “…that the computer and the Internet give us a chance to move more people out of poverty more quickly than at any time in all of human history” (2).  In Bill Clinton’s closing months of his presidency, he has tried to bridge the technological gap between the have and the have-nots, by saying “it is time to harness the Internet’s ‘truly explosive’ potential for helping those in poverty” (Ross 1).  He announced that he would spend two days traveling from East Palo Alto, California and then to Chicago.  During the trip, he will focus on efforts to help poor people gain computer skills and access to high technology. 

    According to Richard Bendetto’s article, “Clinton Takes Steps to Bridge Nation’s Digital Divide, he comments that East Palo Alto “is the locale Clinton is targeting in the effort to bring computer skills and Internet access to everyone” (10A).  It is a low-income community in the heart of Silicon Valley where 20 percent of the residents live in poverty and are unable to tap
into the technological boom around them.  In East Palo Alto, Clinton quotes: “There are people and places that have not participated in this new economy.  I see these places as places of opportunity to create new jobs, new businesses, new employees and keep the American economy going” (10A). 

    Clinton said the computer industry has already responded to his call to help by making $100 million in contributions aimed at bridging the digital divide in low-income communities.  The companies that donated include: Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Qualcom, Novell, America Online, PowerUp, Cisco Systems, People PC, and AT&T.  Americorps is also providing 400 volunteers.  According to Kathleen D. McCarthy’s research on “Philanthropy,” she discusses two notions associated with corporate donations: self-interest and social responsibility.   Corporate donations are based on the idea that they will enhance the company’s well being by improving the health and happiness of its employees and clients, upgrading the surrounding community, or strengthening educational resources in the company’s field of activities.  Corporations feel as though they have obligations to the communities in which they operate and in which their profits are made.  Corporate donations can be seen as a form of noblesse oblige where companies feel an obligation to help people who are less fortunate in the community to
which they operate.  The companies feel as though the less fortunate people need their business and as well need them to help them get them up their feet.  With this in mind, the companies envision themselves being of “higher status,” and it is this sense of arrogance that makes the companies feel obligated to help those that are in need. 

     The Clinton administration discovered that only 47 percent of Native Americans on reservations have phones, compared to 94 percent of all households nationwide.  In response to this, President Clinton announced at Shiprock, New Mexico that the federal government will make basic telephone service for Native American living on reservations available for $1 per
month in hopes to bringing voice and Internet service to chronically underserved population. In Lilleston, McCaleb, and Garrett’s article, “Clinton Highlights Public-Private Partnership to Bridge Technology Gap,” Clinton quotes:  “I am here because I believe that new technologies like the Internet and wireless communications can have an enormous positive impact on the Navajo nation” (1). 

    Sonya Ross introduces Julian Lacey, and East Palo Alto native who works as a Web page designer for computer contractor Averstar, later in her article “Bridging the Digital Gap.”  Julian Lacey says many young people and East Palo Alto have the ingenuity but lack the computer, and she quotes “I’ve seen teenagers hope, hope of reaching a better standard of living, or as a
tool of opportunity” (3).  Lacey believes “by giving teenagers access to technology, they do better in school and stay out of trouble” (3). 

    In Chicago, Clinton challenges computer industry leaders at the influential COMDEX technology trade show to endorse his national initiative to help young people and low-income Americans gain education and training for Internet careers.  In his COMDEX speech, he asked the companies to donate computers, provide training to teachers and support development of
high-quality educational software and online resources.  In the article, “Clinton Urges Tech Industry to Help Disadvantaged,” Clinton’s basic goals “are to provide 21st century learning tools for every child and every school, and to create digital opportunity for every family and every community” (1).   In the article, “Clinton Firmly Urges IT industry to get involved in
digital divide efforts,” President Clinton quotes: “We have a very important choice before us…with your help we can make the right choice” (2).  The choice that Clinton implies is that “information technology businesses devote resources, material, and manpower to an all-out effort to close the digital divide—to educate those who might now have access to the benefits of computer technology in a way that will allow them to use that technology to their own economic advantage” (“Clinton Firmly Urges,” 2-3).  He later quotes: “Closing the digital divide is one of the most important things we can do to eliminate the kind of poverty that is inexcusable in economy like the one we have today” (“Clinton Firmly Urge,” 3).  Clinton’s quote is another fine example of noblesse oblige. When Clinton mentions in his quote, “poverty that is inexcusable in an economy like the one we have today,” he is implying that the large companies that have profited so much from the U.S. economy to take their responsibility in society to help those in need by bridging the technological gap. 

    The Internet gives some people a sense of freedom and equality.  “Stripped of the external trappings of wealth, power, beauty and social status, people tend to be judged in the cyberspace of the Internet only by their ideas and their ability to get them across in terse, vigorous prose” (Dewitt 8).  President Clinton announces a $2 billion proposal that would increase access to computers and the Internet in low-income neighborhoods, bridging what he calls the “digital divide.”  In Kelly Wallace and the Associated Press’s article, “President Clinton Announces Initiative to Help Bridge the Digital Divide,” Clinton quotes: “it would be tragic if this instrument that has done more to break down barriers between people than anything
in all human history built a new wall because not everybody has access to it…” (1).  To achieve his goal, the Clinton administration has been working with the technology industry, private foundations, nonprofit organizations, and civil rights groups to increase Internet accessibility.  Clinton’s unveiled proposal will be included in the president’s Fiscal year 2001 budget request, includes $2 billion over 10 years in tax incentives to encourage businesses to donate computers and sponsor technology training for workers.  It also includes: $150 million for teacher technology training; $100 million to establish 1,000 Community Technology Centers in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods; and, $50 million to expand home access to computers and the Internet for low-income families. 

Clinton’s Moral Obligation 

    Bill Clinton’s actions can be seen as a form of noblesse oblige.  In Kelly Wallace and the Associated Press’s article, “President Clinton Announces Initiative to Help Bridge the Digital Divide,” Clinton quotes: “Our big goal…should be to make connection to the Internet as common as connection to telephones today” (2).  Using the word “our” in his quote suggest
a “higher class” helping people of “lower class.”  Later in the article he quotes: “Now at a time when our country has the longest economic expansion in history…we must close the digital divide.”  In the next quote, he is suggesting “our” moral obligation to help those who do not have Internet access, by saying “we must.”  With Clinton trying to increase Internet access
to the schools, he experiences an esteem enhancement; a boost self-worth and confidence.  Kelly Wallace and the Associate Press’s article illustrates Clinton’s increased self-worth and confidence when he says: “…But now, 90 percent of the schools in the United States today have at least one Internet connection…That’s a big step forward and I’m proud of that” (4). 

Bridging the Technological Divide 

    In John Cochran’s article, “The Digital Divide Narrows,” he gives a true story of how Normajean Hickok was able to bridge the Digital Divide.  Normajean Hickok thought she was the most computer illiterate person in the country.  In John Cochran’s article, she describes herself as an “Internet dummy…I had no clue…I didn’t want to learn because it was scary”
(1).  She took a chance to take computer-training course for low-income people after earning only $13,000 last year.  In exchange, she was given a computer and is already earning money at home working for a medical billing company.  She believes she can make big money for herself and her 8 year-old son.  Hickok quotes: “When I finish the training that I want to
take…I can see myself being able to get a job making $50,000 or $60,000 a year” (Cochran 1).  Hickok has successfully bridged the technological gap, but millions of Americans have not.  In California’s Silicon Valley, companies cannot find enough computer-literate workers, and it is costing them more than $3 billion a year.  Companies are now turning to the poor
neighborhoods that are a part of Silicon Valley for workers. 

    The Digital Divide is not only longer just about technology but also about psychology.  It has become more about persuading people of all ages to take advantage of what is offered.  John Cochran introduces Ruben Barrales, the president of Joint Venture in Silicon Valley Network, in his article “Narrowing the Digital Divide.”  Ruben Barrales says, “the reality is if you’re not plugged into the Internet in the near future…you’re going to be unplugged from job opportunities, unplugged from consumer opportunities, from financial opportunities” (2).  For those who are afraid to cross the digital divide, Hickok offers this advice: “If you can read and you can type, you can do what you need to do on the computer” (Cochran 2).  She then adds
that if she can do it, anyone can. 


    Bill Clinton’s attempt to bridge the technological gap between the social classes can be seen as a modern example of noblesse oblige.  He feels as though it is “our” special responsibility to provide Internet access for those in need in an attempt to end the poverty occurring in “our” nation.  Since Clinton’s campaign, 90 percent of the schools now have Internet
access, which is a big step forward accounting for the fact that only 3 percent of the schools had Internet access in 1994.  With this increase in Internet accessibility in schools, Clinton experiences an increase in self-worth and confidence because he is proud of his accomplishment.  Clinton being proud after helping others in need can be seen as noblesse oblige because of his increased self-esteem. 

    In helping others, there exist hidden notions that motivate people to volunteer their time, money, and resources.  In volunteering to help people in need, it brings into question of whether “we” are doing it to enhance one’s self-esteem or “our” values to act on humanitarian values and concern for others.  For whatever the reason may be, helping people should
consider “our” humanitarian values where “we” express “our” concern for others by helping people who are in need. 


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