Sunday, January 30, 2005

Of possible interest: Masai undergrad in America

I thought some of you might be interested in this series of articles that ran in the Washington Post in December of '03. They are about a former classmate of mine at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Kakenya Ntaiya. She graduated in 2004, and is the first woman from her region to earn a degree. Talk about digital divides -- Kakenya had never seen, much less used, a computer until she came to the US for college.

Washington Post link:

If that doesn't work, you can find the same articles on the R-MWC website:

Friday, January 28, 2005

1st Discussion Reaction

Okay, well, Dr. Greg (I can't say Dr. Downey, for that was the name of my childhood dentist) showed me how to post a message. Better late than never, I reckon.

Felt like I had a few more things to contribute to discussion today, but I didn't get the chance. So here goes:

For one, I guess I disagree that we're all in agreement that we necessarily have consented to live in a purely capitalist nation. I think that the social welfare state is a preferable alternative, and I personally advocate for an extension of the New Deal/Great Society model of the middle part of the last century. One of us made the comment that we shouldn't rely on government to tackle the pressing issues of the day, though I do not believe that the 'free' market offers better solutions to the problems of inequity and inequality. The expansion of privatization since Reagan certainly hasn't improved the divides between the social classes. In fact, quite the opposite has occured. The difference between the have-lots and the have-littles are almost as incomprehensible as the divides between developed and less-developed nations. What has the 'free market' done for those among us with the least?

Second, I think it's unfair to argue that, given unfettered access to digital information, those who gain new access might waste the chance to 'better themselves', so therefore, we may justify less access for certain groups. The same arguments were made a generation ago to counter the idea that African-Americans should have a chance at an equal education. Who would have foreseen even ten years ago the strides India would make in programming and technical support? Certainly not many of those who populated the U.S. classrooms and felt reasonably secure in their choice of a high tech career in computer science. Who can say what might arise from wiring the 'Colonias' of South Texas or the neighborhoods of the south side of Chicago? I know I can't predict that. I believe that we must work to maximze access for all, rather than assume that the 'more deserving' among should enjoy whatever privileges come their way.

Difference principle

Under the difference principle it is permitable to continue or even exaggerate inequality if through this it is possible to raise the position of the least advantaged. This inequality is allowable to the point where the ‘absolute position of the least advantaged can no longer be raised.’ How does this apply to digital divides and differences? Are there many scenarios where augmenting the inequality in resources and capabilities is to the eventual benefit of those least advantaged? Does this argument apply to this sort of resource?

The Horizontal Perspective

In the Lievrouw and Farb article, the authors say that, from the horizontal perspective, "The goal of policy is to ensure that individuals are able to accomplish their particular ends and purposes, and participate effectively in society, given the information resources available to them." However, they also cite Doctor (1991), who said that "Access will be of little benefit to large portions of the population, unless it is accompanied by equipment and training that allow effective use of access. What we need then is a 'right to access' in the broader sense of a 'right to benefit from access.'"

It seems to me that the availability of information resources and the ability to achieve benefits from access are not necessarily the same thing. So how can we make sure that policymakers understand this difference? How can we turn availability of information resources into achievable benefits of access? Does human capital play a role in that process? By that I mean, can there be a logical progression from availability of resources to involvement of an individual with cultivated abilities to the achievement of the benefits of access? When you throw in human capital, you throw in a lot more variables. For example, how does a person cultivate their abilities in order to come to this progression with the readiness needed to recognize that resources are available? This seems to become a cyclical problem, where the individual has to have some sort of access to information in order to know where and how to access other information that would allow them to cultivate their abilities... and on and on. My real question is, where is the starting point? How is someone without equitable access to information able to begin accessing the information they need?

Apples and Oranges...

In "Distibutive Justice", the discussion of giving everyone "the same bundle of material goods an services rather than the same level (so everyone would have 4 oranges, 6 apples, etc.)" (pg.2). That portion of the article continues to discuss how certain people would benefit from trade and be better off because of certain products. Not that I agree with this theory of distribution, or the problem with this theory, but should there be a distinguished hault that's trying to be given to people restricting what they are able to obtain? Could a system ever be created that would start everyone at the same level and then changes would be left to that individual? Why would that work, or not? (What would happen to inheritants from parents and family?)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Economic capital, Social capital and Culture capital

As I was reading about the theories and the debate over Information and Equity, in particular the part regarding the Horizontal Perspective, I recalled the work of a French sociologist that put in relation economical, social and culture capital. His name is Pierre Bourdieu. I think that his theories are strictly related to the Horizontal Perspective on Digital Divide.
I found a very brief and simple summary of his theories on Wikipedia ( And here I paste some of it just to give a taste... hoping it could be interesting.

"[...] Instead of analyzing societies in terms of classes, Bourdieu uses the concept of field: a social arena in which people maneuver and struggle over desirable resources. A field is a system of social positions, structured internally in terms of power relationships. Different fields can be quite autonomous and more complex societies have more fields. There are three fundamental types of capital: 1. Economic capital: command over economic resources. 2. Social capital: relationships, networks of influence and support, people can tap into by virtue of their social position. 3. Cultural capital: parents provide children with cultural capital, the attitudes and knowledge that makes the educational system a comfortable familiar place in which they can succeed easily. Bourdieu’s theory is one of class reproduction, of how one generation of class ensures that it reproduces itself and passes on its privileges to the next generation. The main source of modern success is education. What is necessary for educational success is a whole set of cultural behavior. [...]"

I think that, as long as those capitals would be distributed unevenly, there will be a sort of social divide. Digital or whatever. And, as Bourdieu states that the main source of modern success is education, I think that the only way to proceed toward a partial reduction of the digital divide is to educate users or information seekers. The problem now seems to be different: Do all the people have an equal access to education? Is it due to economic differences between people?
In Italy would say that this matter is like a cat that is trying to catch its own tail... kind of never ending and circular.

Monkey Hamlet

I'm sure you've all heard the parable that if you give a room full of monkeys a bunch of typewriters, in time, one of them will bang out the works of Shakespeare.

It's been used to describe various aspects of the Internet, usually to mock it, especially with the idea that most of what is online are the monkey's non-Hamlet rejects. But it leads one to wonder: which non-"Hamlet" draft did the monkeys themselves like best?

In "Information and Equity" Lievrouw and Farb conclude that to achieve some degree of equity, information professionals should "develop the ability to interact with diverse individuals and groups so that they can facilitate, broker or navigate those groups' various interests and practices -- again, to achieve whatever people may value doing or being, in whatever contexts and to whatever degree people consider important. Information practice should include not only indentifying and accessing existing resources, and teaching people to be 'users' of those established resources; it will also require the ability to recognize and bring into play a heterogeneous range of social, cultural and documentary information resources -- interpersonal and family networks, informal links among experts, and sources of local and universal knowledge."

The question I have is: If access and education were unversally available (and yes, that's a big if with lots of issues in and of itself, but is encouraged earlier in L&F's 'implications' section ) why wouldn't this just happen on its own? If so, shouldn't the question be "how can information professionals get out of the way?" A libertarian distribution model to be sure (if you can distribute information) -- but is there any other practical way to diversify content and interest online?

By the way, try the Monkey-Hamlet thing out for yourself

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

UN Human Rights - Right to Information?

I'm interested in other people's opinions as to how the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be interpreted when it comes to the question of the right to information.

Article 26 promises free (and mandatory!) elementary education for all. Higher education opportunities must exist, but can be made merit-based. Article 27 protects intellectual property and guarantees the right of all people to participate in cultural activities, enjoy the arts, and reap the benefits of scientific advancement.

If a government were to bar people from schools, as the Taliban did for girls and women, it would be violating the rights outlined in this Declaration. So would a government that shut down all the theaters or blocked distribution of effective new medicines. However, it seems that the Declaration does not guarantee people any right to other forms of information, including information about what is happening outside their own country or what the government of their own country is up to!

Article 13 permits people to both leave and return to their homeland, so they should be free to see for themselves what life in other places is like. Yet this is not something people would be likely to do if they'd been lied to about the dangers of traveling abroad or harsh conditions in other nations. Article 21.3 says "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government", which might offer some protection against massive government deceptions or the withholding of important information, but it is not clear to me that this would apply to all cases.

If the "will of the people" gives officials power through fair elections, can the officials then do as they like or are they required to keep the public informed as to their activities?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Week 2-Strict Egalitarianism

The "Distributive Justice" article lists the two main problems of Strict Egalitarianism as how to measure distribution and a time frame for distribution. It does not mention how materials are chosen for distribution. Even if society exists on an equal level, ultimately, I think, power of distribution must be given to a selected segment of society. Those in power have the ability to control the goods before a level of measurement or time frame has been established. Does simply having the power of distribution leave a gap in equality, even if goods and services are equal, or is equality still enforced by the materials individuals possess?

Week 2-Inegalitarian Distribution

In the SEP section on "Distributive Justice", one concept was provocative (p.6). "Some people may have a preference that some...should have less material benefits. Under Utilitarian theories, in their classical form, this preference or interest counts like any other..." and, if not outweighed by a counter-interest, would prevail. This the most difficult thing about justice and democracy: sometimes 'their' side wins. This is the old saw about, I may not agree with you but I defend your right to hold that opinion. When considering equity of information, creators/distributors of information have choices and preferences about distribution. They may charge me for using their information, or they may publish it freely. They may deliberately filter it and I would never know. Woodrow Wilson said in 1915 that, "All the transforming influences in the world are unselfish." Business that create/distribute information must selfishly make profits, yet may also want to be a "transforming influence" on society. They consult with others when determining distribution patterns. What, in this Utilitarian scenario, could a possible process be for disadvantaged, invisible receivers to express their preferences and thus influence the equity of information distribution?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Spring 2005 digital divides and differences web site is now open, with all readings listed for each week. Readings will be available for purchase from ASM Student Print by the time class starts. See you soon.