While tech-writers often act as if the Web is something out there away from society, we all know (and they do too) that technology is always embedded in social structures, power, domination and inequalities. And the words we choose to talk about tech, while seemingly innocuous, betray some pretty heavy political predispositions.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story looking at a “new digital divide” where “poorer” folks aren’t using the web in a “meaningful” way but instead are “wasting time” on social media. I was reminded of how Facebook users looked down on MySpace users a few years ago or the current racist rhetoric surrounding iPhone versus Android mobile phone users. Technology is often an excuse to reify the fallacy that those less privledged are an other, different, less capable and less human.

Whenever someone declares what Internet-use is “meaningful” versus a “waste” we must be critical: who is making the claim? who benefits from these too-commonly constructed hierarchies? And here, as usual, we are dealing with a hierarchical framework created by privileged folks for everyone else to placed within. more...

Presider: Jessie Daniels

The panel I organized for the Theorizing the Web conference was called, “Cyber Racism, Race & Social Media.”  A key theme of all the papers in this session was that race, racism and caste, are enduring features of media across geographic and temporal boundaries, and across cultures.

In the late 1990s, a popular television commercial advertisement captured the zeitgeist of thinking about the web at that time.

This notion that the Internet is a place where “there is no race,” is also one that’s permeated Internet studies.  Early on scholars theorized that the emergence of virtual environments and a culture of fantasy would mean an escape the boundaries of race and the experience of racism.  A few imagined a rise in identity tourism, that is, people using the playful possibilities of gaming to visit different racial and gender identities online (Nakamura, 2002; Turkle, 1997).

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