[Home]DigitalDivide

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Discussion on TechSoup? : http://www.techsoup.org/forums/index.cfm?fuseaction=read&forum=2012&id=51638&cid=117

I wrote :

Here are a few thoughts ...

1) The big problem of the digital divide is cultural not technological. The technology is relatively cheap. And it is possible to get temporary access to the internet in a public library or cycercafe for trivial amounts of money. That's not an ideal solution, but this degree of access is probably sufficient to make a great difference in someone's life.

Do you /really/ believe that? Cultural issues are important - no argument there. But the access and technological issues are much more of a problem. There are people without "trivial amounts of money". There are people who work in shifts that mean they cannot get to a public library. There are /lots/ of people in the world who don't have access to a public library or a cyber cafe. -- AdrianHoward

I do really believe that, in the following sense. Where people get the idea that they want a technology, they make a fairly determined effort to get it. Look at the spread of things like TVs, radios, videos, cassette recorders and CDs in the world. I'm not saying that everyone who wants them can own them, just that there aren't so many people in the world who have literally never accessed some of these devices, even if it's only by watching TV or listening to a radio in a bar in the local town (which is tens of miles from their home.) In fact, most people in the world, however poor, are living within or close to a city which allows some limited access to all these things.

And if every bar that currently has a TV or sound system had an internet connection that customers could use, as they use the TV or radio, then the majority of humanity would have some kind of access. The fact that bars have TVs and radios and don't have internet connections is partly technical, partly due to the relative novelty, but mainly cultural. Computers are more expensive than radios and TVs. But in principle, as solid state devices without moving parts or consuming a lot of energy, they don't need to be if they were made in large enough quantities. The bigger problem is what people would do with them, and the business model that a bar would get out of providing a cheap internet connection to it's customers. See BeermatComputer -- PhilJones

So the things that are really important are education : how to use the technology, what it can be used for, where you can get the information you need.

And the metric we use to judge access should be cultural (what do people do with the technology) not ownership of technology or amount of money spent.

I think school education could do a lot for this, if schools taught and encouraged internet literacy. Also note that internet literacy is not the same as literacy, typing, or how to use Microsoft Office. (Though the first is an essential precondition). Internet literacy is about understanding what the web is, how to use search engines, how to participate in discussion forums, read weblogs and write one yourself, sell things on eBay, join networking groups like Friendster etc.

In the UK anyway things are moving in the right direction. For quite some time the ICT education has been moving away from technological issues and into sensible usage patterns. For example see the National Curriculum's [attainment targets for ICT] -- AdrianHoward

2) I agree that technology uptake reflects existing patterns of dispossession and exclusion in society.

But I'd like to see some more detailed exploration of when and where technology merely reflects these divisions, and where it causes local relative change.

I don't believe encouraging people to use technology is merely about holding a line against further division. It can help to reverse the situation. But whe have to know when and how.

3) I guess I'm always a bit wary of trying to lump all disadvantaged groups together and trying to find one policy to fit all. For example in my experience working in new media I worked with a higher proportion of lesbians than I meet in other situations. I also find a highish proportion of the weblogs I read are by gay men. So I question whether a queer community (if you can generalize about such a thing) suffers from the digital divide in the way that the poor do.

update : actual discussion of this issue focuses mainly on biases against queer users and resources by large service providers by AOL. Although it is a different problem from that facing the poor I agree it is definitely a real problem. http://www.techsoup.org/forums/index.cfm?fuseaction=read&forum=2012&id=51675&cid=117

4) "Further TWM organizes from the perspective that marginalized communities need to create and participate in the structures that run their communities - and this includes technology."

I'd like to understand what this means in practice.

It seems unlikely that the majority of people will ever be involved in creating the technology. That will always be down to a small community of educated scientists, engineers and programmers etc.

So does it mean that these communities will try to direct the production of the technology? That they will hire engineers and programmers the way companies do? That they will lobby government to invest in specific technology? Or that they'll appeal through things like ThinkCycle for voluntry support from the engineering community?

These are all valid strategies. But I think that this organization needs to have some idea of how to execute this stuff. Instead we're offered a further explanatory paragraph which is long on rhetoric but has no further practical detail. (Who says you can't dismantle the master's house with his own tools? Why? Does this reveal a lack of understanding of the nature of tools?)

I fear all that will come out of this is the usual uninsightful "analysis" along the lines of "this technology was all invented under a system of inequality and look how it's making everything worse."

Really, it's time to go beyond that.

In my experience, the digital divide is between the old and the young, not the haves and have nots. Every formal measurement I've seen so far is based on "Do you have a computer in your house?" and "Do you have broadband at home?" These are the wrong questions to ask. The right questions to ask are: "Do you know what an instant message is?" "Can you send an instant message?" "Do you have an e-mail account?" "Can you send email?" "Can you install a program?" "Do you know what it is to install a program?"

I know this because I asked, among around 100 Mexicans, who could use a computer. Every kid knew how. I talked with them personally. But I couldn't find a single adult that knew how.

The ability to use computers is in our heads, not the garage.

-- Lion Kimbro


JakobNielson? on usability for low-literacy users : http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050314.html
CategoryInformationalism, CategoryPolitics


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Last edited May 11, 2005 12:30 pm by PhilJones (diff)
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