In the COVID-19 era, life has moved to the internet, but not everyone has it, thanks to America’s notoriously unequal internet access. As many districts start virtually this fall, some teachers say they’re fighting to ensure that all of their students can log into class each day. Their struggles are just one example of the consequences of America’s failure to get all of its citizens online before this uniquely internet-dependent time. How did such an advanced country leave so many people technologically behind?
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, the tech industry yearned to prove its indispensability to the world. Its executives liked to describe their companies as “utilities.” They came by their self-aggrandizement honestly: The founding fathers of Big Tech really did view their creations as essential, and essentially good. In recent years, however, our infatuation with these creations has begun to curdle.
Amid so much highly visible dysfunction in the American response to the coronavirus, it’s worth appreciating the internet as an unsung hero of the pandemic. It has stayed on because people out there are keeping it on. The internet’s performance is no accident, but rather the result of long-term planning and adaptability, ingenuity and hard work—and also some characteristics that have become part of the personality of the internet itself.