Not impoverished

Few Americans appreciate the importance of computers more than do journalists , who daily write and edit on them. Yet we are concerned about a growing tendency to stigmatize people who do not know how to use them. Nonusers are viewed as "computer illiterates" destined to comprise a permanent underclass. This is nonsense: More important, it is harmful.

No person should be limited by "class" categorizing, whether the division is by computer use or anything else. Each person is an individual capable of rising above human disadvantages far greater than lack of computer knowledge: Millions of people the world over are walking testaments to that.

We do not dispute the importance of learning how to use computers. It is appropriate for colleges and public schools to obtain access to them and to train students to use them. Today computers are used to write letters, compute bills, and transfer money. Tomorrow their effect will be greater. Already people not accustomed to using them are at a disadvantage.

But it is only one disadvantage of many in contemporary American society: Several pose more serious challenges. Twenty-three million Americans are functionally illiterate in language. Half the children today born to black mothers, and many born to white mothers, have no father in their home.

The computer is an extremely useful tool of mankind. But it is not mankind's master: There is no mystique about computers. Anyone can learn how to use one -- even a journalist.

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