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
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
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
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
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”
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
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.