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Who needs toilets? We’ve got iPhones!

TWO DECADES ago, children in low-income families had far less access to technology than children from higher income families. This made it difficult for them to compete in school. I seem to recall Abe Lincolnesque stories about poor students having to walk miles to the library in blizzards to access the Internet and use Paypal to buy prewritten term papers.

Anyway, the disparity in technological access was called “the Digital Divide.”

Things are changing. The Wall Street Journal reported this month that it’s not unusual in poor areas around the world for more homes to have mobile phones than indoor plumbing and electricity.

This makes total sense to me. You really need your own iPhone. If you have to use the toilet, and/or electricity, you can go to Wawa. But the good folks at Wawa aren’t likely to let you use their iPhones to text your friends or post on Facebook. If they did, it would probably be: “At Wawa, using some gross, fat old hoagie bar guy’s phone to update my status. I hate my parents for buying a toilet instead of an iPhone!”

Smartphones are handheld computers more powerful than the ones on the Apollo spacecraft that carried Americans to the moon and back. And, I should point out, there were no toilets on an Apollo spacecraft. Therefore, a kid with an iPhone and no toilet is better off than an Apollo astronaut was.

Anyway, the point of the report about the Digital Divide going away is that instead of studying more, kids are using the technology to waste time playing Angry Birds.

But wait.

This week Fox News reported that the same kind of video game code written for Angry Birds is being used in sophisticated data-mining Flame virus cyber attacks that resulted in an Iranian decision to shut down oil operations. Who would do such a thing?

The New York Times is reporting that even though the White House is admitting nothing, President Obama stepped up secret cyber attacks like the one that temporarily shut down 1,000 Iranian centrifuges being used to purify uranium for use in nuclear weapons a while back.

This is coming out now because of a new book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power” that will be published Tuesday.

The new book and related reports indicate the cyber attacks the president is said to be launching with increasing frequency and complexity are having the kind of effect on Iranian infrastructure that would have required bombing in the past.

There’s debate about how far the Iranian weapons development effort has been set back by cyber attacks. But cyber attacks are certainly less likely to turn Iranian dissident anger away from their own government and toward America than bombing or an invasion would be. If effective, they’re less costly in lives and treasure.

Developing potent cyber attacks and strong defenses against cyber attacks is already critical to our national security.

American children still need to study. But maybe playing video games isn’t such a waste of time after all.

In the 1984 movie “The Last Starfighter,” a teen escapes life in a trailer park and saves the Earth because he’s so skilled at an arcade video game. Today, becoming good at video games can help develop the skills to become a drone pilot. And if an interest in video games leads to learning to write code for games, it could in turn lead to a career in cyber security.

Maybe there’s a future in the hobby. Maybe it’ll even end up on résumés.

At least that’s what I like to tell myself when I wonder if I’m a bad dad for letting my kids play Minecraft and Call of Duty.

Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163

mikez@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/business/2012/06/01/who-needs-toilets-weve-got-iphones/

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