What is Bandwidth Poverty and How Does it Affect the Poor?
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I was listening to this great NPR piece the other day when I was driving home from work. While there are many people who don’t appreciate public radio, I am not one of them. I love the stories along with the information I get from NPR. I do admit I used to laugh at some of my friends for listening to NPR, but now I am on the train as well. It is very enlightening and can really expand your knowledge base.
Anyway, they were running a story on All Things Considered dealing with poverty. Not just a regular poverty story though. One that really got my interest and made my ears perk up. They were talking about bandwidth poverty.
What is Bandwidth Poverty?
The reason I was so fascinated with this NPR piece was because I use the term “bandwidth” on a regular basis. In business, you can use it to describe how much you have going on or how many resources it is going to take to complete a task. I also use the term in my own life and business. When I know something is going to take a lot of time, I ask myself how much bandwidth I have available. I can only take on so much, so if I exceed my allotted bandwidth, then the task doesn’t get finished.
This premise of bandwidth also refers to a state of poverty. Typically when you are poor, you are focusing on taking care of a few needs at a time, such as eating, making money to pay bills, or finding a place to sleep. You are living in the now, just trying to get through the day. Most of your cognitive processing goes to those said tasks. You don’t have anything left over (bandwidth) to think about what is beyond that day. You can’t think for the future.
This is essentially bandwidth poverty. When you have to focus on these overwhelming decisions, you can’t think beyond that point. When you need to find food, pay your rent, keep your kids clothed, and all of the other aspects, you can’t think beyond those things. Since the poor typically have to face those same questions day in and day out, they have no room to think about the future. They can’t think about saving money for retirement or getting an education to get out of their situation. They can also get consumed with certain thoughts which lead them to make bad decisions or forget stuff they need to do, like paying their bills.
Why Bandwidth Poverty Makes Sense to Me
I have heard many reasons for why people are poor and why we have a poverty issue in our nation. Most of them only focus on the government not providing enough help or companies not providing living wages. While those are valid issues, I have never heard a piece about the cognitive aspects of poverty. I especially have never heard it referred to as “bandwidth.” This term resonates with me. I get it and I see it everyday. I just see it on a different level.
I have no qualms to say I am not poor. I work extremely hard to provide for myself and my family. I also was given some great opportunities through how I was raised and through contacts I met over the years. That being said, I do understand bandwidth. When I am working and more and more stuff piles onto my plate, I can get a little unsettled. That is when I start making mistakes. I just wrote a few days ago about about how stress and lack of sleep cost me $10,000. While that was all about business, it is the same premise.
When I am working hard to get a task done for a client or a new project for my blog, I can be a little short-sided. I get too focused on those tasks and I lose sight of what might be coming up or what the future holds. Yes, my decisions aren’t based on if I will be able to eat tonight or not, but I am showing you how I can understand where this NPR piece is going. This has opened my eyes a little more to the struggles of the poor. This is a side to the poverty story I can get behind.
When you can’t think beyond the day, how can you expect to save any money? How can you try to get your finances in order when all you can do is push through the day and get your immediate needs met? When you can’t look to the future, you will struggle making ends meet and planning for the road ahead. Planning and execution are big parts of personal finance, but when you can’t meet one, the other falls apart.
So, what do you think about the notion of “bandwidth” poverty? Does it make sense to you that some people will be affected by this due to how much they have to worry about? In what areas of life is your ‘bandwidth’ being maxed out?
Photo courtesy of: Bhernandez