Welcome to TEXTURE. Here are some things you may want to read about.

Floppy Disk Memories

Hello, friends. It’s been a while. Tax season is upon us. I recently dug through piles of business-related paperwork and came across old floppy disks. Some weren’t labeled. But if I had to guess what surprises they held, I would say the research I did for my graduate thesis in the early 2000s centered on the digital divide. Information changes so fast that my theories at the time are probably not as valid today. That is, except for one: technology innovation, when primarily owned by the “haves,” prolongs social inequity.

The digital divide persists in the age of generative AI

In the early 2000s, the digital divide was defined as a new form of social inequity. The "haves" could access the then-new technology, while the "have-nots" couldn't. Those with means had a first-mover advantage in innovating the technology and the power to direct its path. Those without means would have to rely on the goodwill of the “haves”. Or they could wait for market forces to lower the price of technology to make access easier.

In the decades that followed, this is exactly what happened. Anyone, it seems, can simply hunch over their cell phones and, with a few taps and clicks, access the internet and all forms of apps for socializing or anti-socializing, banking, shopping, etc. The data says that there are 5.35 billion internet users worldwide; that is 66% of the entire global population. The internet digital divide remains a problem today, but it was worse around in 2000 – only 7% of the world was accessing the internet.

The bulk of people online were from the U.S. The internet had already been growing in use since the mid-1990s, and by the turn of the century, about 50% of Americans were online in 2000. I was one of them because I had a computer at home, and at college, I had lots of access to all types of computers. As an inner-city kid, I could’ve easily been on the side of the “have-nots” had I not been able to attend college.

Educational attainment correlates with technology adoption. In 2000, 95% of American adults with a college or graduate degree reported using the internet, according to Pew Research. On the flip side, internet adoption was much lower among those with less education – only 19% of adults without a high school diploma said they used the internet.

Fast forward 24 years to the technically-still-nascent age of generative AI (remember, ChatGPT was released only a year and a half ago, in late 2022), and the numbers have stark similarities, spotlighting a shiny new version of the digital divide. Pew Research Center, reporting on public awareness of AI, says that 53% of U.S. adults with a postgraduate degree correctly identified AI examples. They did so across a series of multiple-choice questions. In stark contrast, just 14% of those with a high school diploma or less education answered all the AI questions accurately.

This disparity suggests a significant knowledge gap based on educational background, with digital literacy, perceived relevance, and socioeconomic status remaining barriers to adoption. So, will generative AI be just another tool facilitating social inequity? While some proclaim AI as the great equalizer, and as AI optimists and pessimists debate the benefits and risks of AI, we still have time to truly break down barriers of knowledge, empower creative minds, and allow individuals at every level of society to compete.

Here are some ways to help address the gaps:

  • Improving collaboration at every level. It can’t be just the community of AI tech builders driving things forward. We must bring in the voices of individuals and groups with limited AI literacy. Otherwise, we risk innovating with a one-sided view that does not truly consider the perspectives and concerns of underserved communities. This shortsighted approach will only perpetuate existing societal inequities and broaden the gap.
  • Teach AI in schools located in underserved communities. This article says is best: “In the heart of bustling cities, where the energy is palpable and dreams seem within reach, lies a quiet crisis that threatens the futures of our children: the absence of artificial intelligence (AI) education in inner-city schools.”
  • Closing gaps in representation among historically underrepresented groups. In a recent article, I wrote about how science and engineering academic departments in the U.S. might be working to close the computer science gap, but have yet to achieve full representation for historically marginalized groups. For example, women in computer sciences and engineering remain underrepresented, with only 26% and 24% among degree recipients, respectively. The numbers are even worse for Hispanic or Latinx bachelor’s degree recipients in science and engineering.
  • Getting people ready for change. It’s said that in life, there are two guarantees: death and taxes (April 15th is the deadline, don’t forget!) Another constant is change – whether we initiate it, or it’s thrust upon us. AI is changing the workforce. But this isn’t new. In 1870, over 75% of the labor force in the U.S. was engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. But by 1930, employment trends changed toward pursuits in distribution, transportation, communication, trade, and service, thanks in large part to industrial innovations. In the age of AI, augmenting existing upskilling efforts and being transparent on the benefits and risks of AI can help people prepare for the future of work.

Something else came to my mind when I saw those old floppy disks. A memory of when I was laid off in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble.

What selling women's shoes taught me about business

About two years after being downsized, I decided to start a business. I was a grad student and directionless, at least from a career standpoint. I found a service that helped individuals form LLCs for a few hundred dollars. But I had no idea how to run a business, so a terribly slow start. I took whatever job I could get to pay the bills, like selling women's shoes at Nordstrom, where I learned some valuable lessons:

  • Take every chance you can get to learn a new skill. I didn’t know much about women’s shoes, but I was willing to learn. This was a commission-based job, so I had to compete with others on the floor. So, I learned how to become more personable and approachable, which wasn’t natural to me. These soft skills have served me well in the era of Zoom meetings.
  • Customer service is everything. Nordstrom is legendary for its customer service. The level of activity behind the scenes to get the right shoes to customers merits its own article. Let’s just say that my workdays ended with sweat-soaked dress shirts, but with the satisfaction that every customer left happy even if they didn’t buy a pair of shoes that day. There’s even a famous story about a guy returning car tires to Nordstrom. Well, it's true.
  • You’ve got to do you. At a time when Al Bundy, a character played by Ed O’Neill in the sitcom Married … With Children, was deeply embedded in the zeitgeist, selling shoes meant getting smirks and comparisons to a fictional father in a dysfunctional family who spent his off-hours drinking beer and reliving the past glory as a high school football hero. Funnily enough, I took the job at Nordstrom to get married. I wanted to save up for a ring so I could propose to my then-girlfriend (now my wife). The lesson here is this: When you set out to do something to achieve a goal, whatever that may be, the naysayers will be ready to pounce, but it only matters if you let them get to you.


I referred to floppy disks as old, but they’ve stood the test of time. For example, San Francisco’s train system plans on using floppy disks for years to come.

TEXTURE (AI-generated illustration)


Here are some other things I’ve been reading:

  • The most I ever spent on a meal was around $175 for four people. I can't imagine spending the stratospheric price of $495,000 for a meal. But with a view that includes seeing the sun rise over the curvature of the earth, it might be worth the price of admission – not that I can afford it.
  • Ever heard someone referring to building a "cottage industry?" What does the term really mean? Does it have anything to do with cottage cheese? Historically, it might.
  • Have you been called dense? You might as well pick up a second language then. That’s because being bilingual might increase the density of gray matter in your brain, which means more cells and a potential indicator of a healthier brain.

Spread the word

Thank you for reading. Until next time.