Kick Your Sidekick

The T-Mobile Sidekick is the Air Jordan’s of the digital age. Just like the Air Jordan’s were aggressively marketed to low-income minority youth in the 90’s, so too has the T-Mobile Sidekick in the 2000’s. I’ve thought this for a while, and it has bothered me quite a bit, but it all came to a head last night.

Last night I went to a birthday party a friend of mine was having for her son. I was talking to her teenage daughter who has had some troubles in school. The daughter is in a special program right now where she is only on campus two hours a week. I asked her how she was doing in English, and how she wrote her papers since the family doesn’t have a computer and she has limited access to computer labs.

To my surprise, she told me she writes her school papers on her T-Mobile Sidekick! I thought to myself “Wow, that is so uniquely American poverty.” There is no way this girl is going to learn the writing skills she will need to support herself in the future if all her papers are written with two thumbs on a 2.6 inch screen. I am still pretty shocked that she is doing this, and it makes me wonder how many other low-income youths, who seem to have more access to smartphones than computers, are doing the same.

It seems easy to blame the parents here. I’ll admit my first inclination was to be mad at my friend for buying her daughter a Sidekick instead of a computer. But even though a computer would have been a better purchase than the Sidekick (not to mention it would cost the same, or less given the contract with T-Mobile), it is understandable how low-income families get sucked into the Sidekick trap. Sidekicks are aggressively marketed to low-income, minority children in a way computers are not. For parents who can’t offer their kids a better neighborhood to live in and a better life, getting their kid a Sidekick is a luxury they can “afford” their kids.

Don’t get me wrong, the purchase of a Sidekick over a computer is an awful chose. But, the corporation that makes the Sidekick (Danger, which sold itself to Microsoft) knows darn well who they sell their products to and who is making them rich. I do a lot of work with low-income youths and I feel like every one of them has one of these stupid things.

Obviously we can’t stop corporations from marketing expensive and frivolous products to low-income minority youth. These families are in a way low hanging fruit for exploitation by the likes of Danger and Nike. What I wonder though is why there aren’t more computer manufacturers marketing to low-income families the way the Sidekick is being marketed? The cost of computers has come down so much as to be acquirable at about the same price, and Asus even makes a sub $400 dollar laptop, the Asus Eee PC.

As computer manufacturers continue to look for growth in an increasingly saturated computer market, perhaps they should look to low-income American families. By selling to low-income families they could grow their businesses and even do a little social good.