Luxury or necessity? Eleven-year-old James High pondered the meaning of
each word. He considered the personal computer in front of him before
answering the question.
"It's sort of both," said High, a sixth-grader at Stonewall Middle
When he and others at the James Paige Learning Center use a computer to
change the screensaver or to play Hearts, that's a luxury.
But some people need computers for their work, and that makes
them a necessity, he said.
He hopes to get one at home soon. He will use it to play games,
which is a luxury. But he will also use it to type and to print things for
Homework, unfortunately, is a necessity. But he and his classmates
could always do it the old-fashioned way. They could look up sharks and
mammals, rocks and wars in the regular encyclopedia, and copy facts into
their own words. If you think of it that way, a computer is not so
But they are, says Pat Fot, director of the YWCA's Child Enrichment
Starting in elementary school, students are expected to research
topics and to write about what they learn.
"You want the most current information, and that's not necessarily in
books in the library, but on the computer," Fot said.
The child with a computer at home can find all this information, plus
become comfortable with a tool he or she will encounter later in life.
"You'd be surprised at how many kids do not have access to the
Internet," said Fot.
The U.S. Department of Commerce found that 93.8 percent of American
households have telephones. Thirty-six percent have home computers,
and 18.6 percent have Internet access.
Electronic mail access has increased almost 400 percent since
1994, according to the 1999 report "Falling through the Net II."
But the divide between computer haves and have-nots has grown since
People in rural areas and inner cities, poor families, black families
and those headed by young parents or by single mothers are less likely to
have computers and Internet access at home, compared to
Computers, as well as Internet access, are not luxuries,
have access, everyone should have access.
It's the same standard she applies to books, newspapers and magazines
in a democratic society. Such a system relies on an informed, educated
population, with easy access to information.
More and more, these days, information is available online.
"If you don't have that access, you're going to be
disenfranchised," Wright said.