Archive: Aug 2016

The National Public Radio All Tech Considered series recently released a very interesting segment: “Social Network Nextdoor Moves To Block Racial Profiling Online.” This is a very encouraging move, as Nextdoor posts often reinforce racial stereotypes, and these virtual actions can have very serious real world implications. Preliminary tests of Nextdoor’s efforts have reduced racial profiling by as much as 75%. Hopefully they will have similar success when the changes are widely implemented!

Each year in August Beloit College releases its Mindset List, which provides “a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college.” The list for the class of 2020 includes items such as “Serena Williams has always been winning Grand Slam singles titles” and “presidents have always been denied line item veto power.” I wondered what the list for my graduation year (1990) included, but I discovered that the list was started in 1998, for the class of 2002. An interesting class project would be for students to create pre-1998 lists!

The “digital divide” has classically referred to the gap between those with access to computer-based technologies such as the internet, and those without. The Pacific Standard article “The Term ‘Digital Divide’ Doesn’t Work Anymore” extends more recent arguments that the divide is now not so much about access to technology, it’s also about how technology is used.

Simple “yes or no” questions no longer suffice. The questions now must also address access (does the person have a home computer or are they smartphone-dependent?) and speed (do they have dial-up or broadband?). These factors aren’t simply ancillary, they are integral.

This distinction is important because it casts light on another concept at play: Those left behind are further behind than ever before.

The article closes with this argument:

“Digital divide” denotes a chasm that can be crossed. What we should be talking about is a “digital spectrum,” the endpoints of which widen with each innovation.

Moving from a discussion of the “digital divide” to the “digital spectrum” sounds like a good project to me. Non-profit organizations can play a strong role in this expanded understanding, as discussed in an earlier Pacific Standard article, “How Non-Profits Help Close the Digital Divide.”

A July 25, 2016 post on the Google Maps blog notes a new feature: “As you explore the new map, you’ll notice areas shaded in orange representing ‘areas of interest’—places where there’s a lot of activities and things to do.” The post goes on to note, “we determine ‘areas of interest’ with an algorithmic process that allows us to highlight the areas with the highest concentration of restaurants, bars and shops. In high-density areas like NYC, we use a human touch to make sure we’re showing the most active areas.” It turns out, however, that the algorithm and/or human touch seems to embed class and racial biases, as non-areas of interests reflect real-life geographic divides. Hopefully the next update of Google Maps will tweak the algorithm and human guidance processes.