ipad-projectDo the poor “deserve” e-readers? That’s the question a photo in a newspaper story raised recently. In a New Orleans Times-Picayune story discussing concerns over dust from a building demolition in New Orleans affecting people who live in a nearby public housing project, a photo showed an 8-year-old boy using an iPad. It was just a photo meant to illustrate the people who lived in the affected project, but it raised some questions and attracted complaints from readers: what was a child in public housing doing with a $500 tablet?

Jarvis DeBerry, who wrote a follow-up article on the controversy, notes that it’s fairly common for people to have differing opinions on exactly what possessions the poor should be “allowed” to have. But for his part, he didn’t see the problem in this case:

The sight of a kid in public housing with an iPad doesn’t offend me. Actually it gives me hope. So many poor people have no access to the digital world. They fall behind in school because of it. They miss the opportunity to apply for certain jobs. Yes an iPad is an expensive gadget, but we can’t deny its usefulness. As computers go, an iPad comes cheaper than most laptops and desktops.

The mindset does make me wonder, though: what about when we’re able to make cheap tablets and e-readers and computers and get them to poor people to try to give them access to what they’re missing from the digital divide? Will the sight of a poor person with an e-reader raise hackles from people who think they don’t “deserve” something that “expensive”?


  1. What’s a pricey lifestyle option for the well-off can be a necessity for the poor. If you often get evicted from apartments or are homeless for weeks at a time, a cell phone isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. And one ‘smart’ enough to receive email is even better. That’s particularly true if you work at temporary and part-time jobs. Missing a call or an email can mean missed income. That cell phone soon pays for itself.

    An iPad is much the same. It’s more portable, which handy if you have to move often. And if you live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, it’s far easier to hid than a laptop. Don’t forget that it’s actually cheaper than all but the low-end netbooks.

    But in the end, solving issues of poverty has little to do with technology and a lot to do with lifestyles, particularly marrying before having kids and staying married. Even the NY Times admitted as much in an article last week.

    By far and above, the best indicator of a child’s future success isn’t the presence of this gadget or that gadget, it’s the presence of the child’s biological father in the home.

  2. @Common Sense — I wonder why it is assumed that the child or the child’s parents bought the iPad as opposed to having received the iPad as a loan or a gift from some other source. Some schools, as has been reported on Teleread, have been buying iPads and distributing them to students. How do you know, for example, that the kid in the picture isn’t a particularly bright student and his church didn’t buy the iPad as a way to encourage the kid?

    Perhaps the parents srimped and set aside $5 a week to buy the iPad for a gifted child, or perhaps they are renting it at some exorbitant interest rate, or perhaps it is a loaner from the public library.

    I am always amazed at how quickly some people jump to conclusions without facts and even if they have the facts are more interested in suppressing others than in helping others to rise.

  3. Am iPad is a one-time expense (you can get wifi for free at the library and many other places) Food, rent, health insurance, bus passes, gasoline, etc. are recurring expenses. So if a parent is able to save up their money (and many people living in subsidized housing or getting food stamps DO work, they just don’t make much!) to buy their child something useful, kick ’em to the curb?

    I can see what’s wrong with America today, and it isn’t what the second commenter and people like him/her think it is.

  4. First, you can get a 1st gen iPad used for under $200 dollars – and we don’t even know if this child actually owns the iPad or was borrowing it. And it could have been a gift from a family member who is better off financially. Or a gift from a family member/acquaintance who upgraded to a newer model and gave away their older unit to someone who could really benefit from it. My husband does this all the time.

    Second, a tablet has such a high potential for educational value, that I can completely see it being worth stashing your pennies away and sacrificing other things to be able to afford one for your child and it appauls me to think that some people believe the poor do not deserve such things. Access to such technology and by extension, access to information, may be one of the things that make it possible for people to expand their horizons and break out of whatever class constraints may be inhibiting them.

    It is easy to think of a tablet as a luxury if what you use it for is to watch movies, play music, play games, or post on Facebook. But it also might be one’s only access to the Internet and the plethora of information out there. There are multitudes of educational apps for tablets that are free or very inexpensive (compared to educational software for the PC or for proprietary devices like Leap Frog). Some children’s books are offered free or for cheap as ebooks and ebooks and audiobooks are available from many public libraries.

    If such a device also offers the opportunity for entertainment in the same package – all the better value – compare it to spending money on something like a Leapster that can do only a limited amount of things and that you pay good money not only for the device, but for every limited and overpriced piece of software written for it, and that your child will quickly outgrow.

    Tablets are luxuries when we already have PCs and laptops and netbooks and smart phones and DVD players and MP3 players that can do the same things, sometimes better. But when you cannot afford any of those, tablets can be a cost effective way to gain access to a world of information and content in one small, relatively inexpensive device.

  5. Dear Common Sense, if you ever visit India, you will realize that the cell phone market’s biggest consumer blocs are who you would call the poor; And it’s has been a boon for them. They are able to get more work as people are able to reach them easily. Due to this most cell phone companies have a huge consumer base and as a result, the call charges have dropped significantly as they are able to recover their fixed costs faster. In fact India has one of the lowest call charges – about 1.7 US cent per minute or lower (depending on distance) for calls within India. I am yet to meet any rich folks here who complain about the poor using cell phones and making call rates cheaper for all!

    I agree that the iPad is considered a luxury in most middle-income houses, but that does not mean the poor don’t have a right to own them. In fact I am happy that they have realized the importance of technology in their efforts to better their future. Knowledge and not lack of funds is what truly divides the rich from the poor. Throughout history we find instances of the rich trying to withhold the poor from gaining knowledge.

    Perhaps the anger of the few readers stems from the fact that they themselves don’t own an iPad yet or had to sacrifice a few luxuries for a month or two in order to procure one?

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