What It Do: Expanding The Matrix Alex Benson July 11, 2012 Columns Everything is in the cloud, now. If you’re down on your luck, and need to apply for food stamps, chances are the first step will include entering your information on the county website. For those looking to improve their station, a targeted web search seems the most effective method of identifying the soul-sucking opportunities available in the job seeker’s local area. And if you want to land that exciting fast food career, you must apply online. Unfortunately, competition is fierce, and not everybody can be selected for such demanding work. So the poor souls left behind must sometimes convert their possessions into grocery cash. Before the internet age, this task was generally accomplished by one of three methods. You could take the item to a pawn shop if it met a certain threshold of value. However, the pawnbroker obtains their profit by negotiating a lower-than-market-value cost, so you should expect to take a hit on the transaction. Failing that, you could attempt to move it at a yard sale—where the likely outcome would also be accepting a price far lower than desired. Once the sale is over, everything that hasn’t been purchased becomes a headache. And when someone offers cash on the spot, it can be difficult to resist the certainty of dead presidents. Finally, you always had the option of placing a classified ad. This costs a few dollars, but generally obtained the highest selling price. In today’s world, turning the living room television into a power bill payment is easier and more efficient than ever. The online secondhand marketplace—built up by eBay and perfected by Craigslist—allows people to quickly address their individual desperations, sometimes obtaining cash in mere hours. It can be imagined that there are fleeting moments when internet access makes being poor in America feel something close to survivable. However, rural Americans often find themselves unable to warm their hands by the light of fiber optics and data throughput. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 45 percent of rural households own a computer. The percentage of those rural computers currently sitting in the corner behind the easy chair because they’ve been rendered unusable by malware was not reported. Rural Americans who are in possession of working computers made within the last seven years are still sometimes unable to obtain suitable access in their homes. DSL has developed into a robust and affordable form of internet access; however, the limitations on distance from server to household make that protocol simply unavailable in many rural areas. Cable access can be affordable—if you can avoid being suckered into the two-year “Everything On Demand And At The Same Time” contract. However, cable—like DSL—is not available everywhere, and usually involves signing up with a monopoly, opening the door to all sorts of customer care and reliability issues. Satellite-based internet access is available nearly anywhere, however the affordability and reliability of the technology still needs improvement before it can be viewed as a practical option. Most areas do have one or more dial-up services still available as an option of last resort. However, the speed capabilities of even the fastest dial up connection are often below what is needed for modern internet applications—including online classes and certain job application platforms. If transportation isn’t an obstacle, some locations do exist where rural Americans can go to make use of the internet. There are thinly-disguised gambling houses that often call themselves “internet cafés.” And, indeed, you can handle your web business for a time-based fee. But while you’re there, don’t forget to take advantage of the free casino points given to every first time visitor. You can start using your free points as soon as you put your credit card on file. Public libraries offer a less shady access point though the restricted hours of a library can make a visit impractical for many working people. And, in many states, library funding is a prime target for austerity-obsessed budget balancers. In late 2011, California governor Jerry Brown—a Democrat—eliminated further state funding for libraries. In June of this year, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal—a Republican—followed suit. Certain rural municipalities have implemented public internet access facilities—free internet cafés, essentially. This allows the county or town to provide free internet access without the additional expense of a library full of books. Unfortunately, funding for such operations generally comes from government and non-profit foundation grants—making sustainability a major challenge. The internet has fundamentally changed many of the methods our society uses to operate itself on a daily basis. And, in many ways, that bell should not be unrung, even if it were possible to do so. But Americans who find themselves caught outside the boundaries of cyberspace deal with countless obstacles to simply interacting with the world around them in a necessary fashion. The cost of providing basic, usable internet access to every American would barely register as a fraction of what we spend on corporate bailouts, military misadventures, or political campaigns. A society with saner priorities would not exhibit such disparities. 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