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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


  • ecessary after all.


    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


    other families.



    Computers, as well as Internet access, are not luxuries,


  • ays Kanawha County Public Library Director Linda Wright. If some people

    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.




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