1. The digital divide is so over that it’s passé
This is a common trope I hear at conferences, whether academic or otherwise. Before presenting at the American Sociological Association annual meeting last year, I got feedback from colleagues that I should explain what in the heck the digital divide is before launching into its connection to online activism. Huh? We are sociologists – we have all read Marx. Inequality is one of the pillars that holds up our discipline. We wouldn’t know what to do without gender, class and race gaps. Why should the Internet be any different from the rest of society?
But I’ve been told to always listen to my audience, who need a gentle reminder that digital inequality is alive and kickin.’ But what is it, exactly? (more…)
Just about every one of our contributing authors has written a piece that challenges or refutes the claims made by tech journalists, industry pundits, or fellow academics. Part of the problem is technological determinism- the notion that technology has a unidirectional impact on society. (i.e. Google makes us stupid, cell phones make us lonely.) Popular discussions of digital technologies take on a very particular flavor of technological determinism, wherein the author makes the claim that social activity on/in/through Friendster/New MySpace/ Google+/ Snapchat/ Bing is inherently separate from the physical world. Nathan Jurgenson has given a name to this fallacy: digital dualism. Ever since Nathan posted Digital dualism versus augmented reality I have been preoccupied with a singular question: where did this thinking come from? Its too pervasive and readily accepted as truth to be a trendy idea or even a generational divide. Every one of Cyborgology’s regular contributors (and some of our guest authors) hear digital dualist rhetoric coming from their students. The so-called “digital natives” lament their peers’ neglect of “the real world.” Digital dualism’s roots run deep and can be found at the very core of modern thought. Indeed, digital dualism seems to predate the very technologies that it inaccurately portrays. (more…)
The theory and policy of Internet connectivity has not kept pace with the increasing diversity of network access. The full variety of access points, social practices, and meaning created by networked individuals has not been critically engaged by most authors. Jenna Burrell’s new book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafe’s of Urban Ghana is the start of a major corrective in the social sciences’ treatment of the Internet. For “nonelite urban youth” the internet café provides an opportunity to extend one’s social network outside of the zongo (colloquial term for slum) that they grew up in, and gain access to resources and contacts they would otherwise never acquire. A majority of Burrell’s work takes place in these cafés but we are also treated to a discussion of global ewaste streams, international consortiums on the “information society” and the collective reputation and shared meaning of Ghanaians on the Internet. Burrell provides a broad, but at times penetratingly deep look at the Internet from the margins. (more…)
Stacks of Kente and cotton cloth sit in piles, waiting to be stamped with Adinkra patterns. Note the “pixelated” patterns in the center stack.
In part 1 I opened with a run down of the different kinds of “digital divides” that dominate the public debate about low income access to technology. Digital divide rhetoric relies on a deficit model of connectivity. Everyone is compared against the richest of the rich western norm, and anything else is a hinderance. If you access Twitter via text message or rely on an internet cafe for regular internet access, your access is not considered different, unique, or efficient. Instead, these connections are marked as deficient and wanting. The influence of capitalist consumption might drive individuals to want nicer devices and faster connections, but who is to say faster, always on connections are the best connections? We should be looking for the benefits of accessing the net in public, or celebrating the creativity necessitated by brevity. In short, what kinds of digital connectivity are western writers totally blind to seeing? The digital divide has more to do with our definitions of the digital, than actual divides in access. What we recognize as digital informs our critiques of technology and extends beyond access concerns and into the realms of aesthetics, literature and society. I think it is safe to say that most readers of this blog think they know better: Fetishizing the real is for suckers. The New Aesthetic, a nascent artistic network, is all about crossing the boarder between the offline and the online. Pixelated paint jobs confuse computer scanners and malfunctioning label makers print code on Levis. The future isn’t rocket-powered, its pixelated. Just as the rocket-fueled future of the 50s was painstakingly crafted by cold warriors, the New Aesthetic of today is the product of a very particular worldview. The New Aesthetic needs to be situated within its global context and reconsidered as the product of just one kind of future. (more…)
[Edit 09/07/11 @ 5:03PM EST] It has been mentioned in the comments, and elsewhere, that while the Postal Service is facing a solvency problem, that problem is the direct result of Republican-led legislation that burdens them with excessive overhead. I completely agree with this sentiment. The 109th Congress, passed the “The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” in 2006, which you can read in full here. The law requires that the USPS pre-fund 75 years-worth of pensions, and prohibits them from selling goods that are not directly used for sending letters and packages. I suggest you read more about this legislation here and here. I encourage all of you do to your own research and post what you find in the comments.]
- Photo Credit: Wikipedia – The Galveston Federal Building, built in 1937, is a multi-purpose building with many different government agencies. Don’t bleed the Post Office dry, make it a 21st Century Civic Center
Reading the news lately, makes it seem as though the Post Office is giving its final economic death rattle. Post Master General Patrick Donahoe spoke at a Senate hearing yesterday, and according to the Christian Science Monitor:
Donahoe reiterated a list of cost-cutting measures he has been proposing in recent months to erase the agency’s deficit, which could reach up to $10 billion this fiscal year. They include eliminating Saturday mail delivery, closing as many as 3,700 postal locations, and laying off 120,000 workers – nearly one-fifth of the agency’s work force. (This doesn’t include another 100,000 jobs lost to attrition that the agency does not plan to replace, for a total of 220,000 lost positions.)
These are disgraceful solutions to what could be considered an exciting opportunity to innovate. The Internet is being blamed for many of the Post Office’s problems, and it is safe to say that email has put a significant dent in their revenues. But revenues are only half the story. Expenditures are equally important. Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck in their book Suburban Nation relay a conversation with a former (unnamed) Postmaster General who explained that most of our postage goes to the gas for the trucks and vans that carry mail to the suburban fringes of municipalities. Indeed, the USPS has the largest civilian truck fleet in the world. In an era of austerity, we need to look for ways to reduce spending while maintaining affordable services. I just think we need to spend less money on machines, and more on people. The internet can help us do this.
QR codes line the bulletin boards of many college campuses.
Lisa Wade over at our sister blog Sociological Images sent us an email from one of her readers, Steve Grimes, who shared this image and some interesting thoughts about how Quick Response codes or, QR codes can contribute to inequality. That is, QR codes such as these serve to make certain content and information “exclusive” to those who have smartphones. He states,
There is a general thinking that technology can create a level playing field (an example of this is can be seen with the popular feelings about the internet). However, technology also has a great ability to create and widen gaps of inequality.
In a practical sense the company may be looking for students who are tech savvy. They may also want to save on ink toner (might be a stretch). So using the matrix barcode may serve that purpose. However, the ad also shows how technology can exclude individuals; primarily in this case, students without smart phones. One may think that being on a college campus every student would have a smart phone. However, when you look at the prices of most smart phones along with the prices for the plans of a carrier (usually somewhere $75-150 per month) one can see that not every student may have one. Especially considering the other things that they may have to pay for that are a bit pressing to their environment (books, food, etc). (more…)
Previously, I have discussed how Internet (particularly online dating) varies with age. Today, I want to take a slight different tact and consider Internet use as a generational phenomenon.
These data, no doubt, confirm expectations that Internet usage is less common in older generations; however, the severity of the drop in Internet use across generational groups is greater than virtually any other category, including gender, race, and class. The generation gap still constitutes the greatest digital divide in America.
For more trend data see Pew’s “Generation Difference in Online Activities.”