Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More news on the "lunch divide"

I recently read a newsletter that ties into a discussion we had earlier in the semester on the "lunch divide" and issues of inequity surrounding free lunch programs. The following link is to a blog discussing State Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-MO)'s views on a summer food program in Missouri. Davis serves as the chairwoman of the Missouri House Special Standing Committee on Children and Families and was quoted in her June newsletter as saying 'Hunger can be a positive motivator.' As Lee Fang points out in the blog, Davis actually extols the hidden benefits of child hunger.

According to Davis, laid off parents should just try homecooked meals rather than going out to eat. Her simplistic analysis of poverty, obesity, work, and the family has left me speechless. To top things off, she's a lawmaker! As the recession continues on and more people are faced with hunger, keep in mind Davis's advice: "If you work for McDonald's, they will feed you for free during your break."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

PayPal and data mining

I stumbled across an interesting article on PayPal's data mining practices, which brings up some serious issues surrounding online privacy and the digital divide. Individuals without established web surfing and online transaction histories are more likely to be labeled as "fraudulent users" and denied access to PayPal's services. By monitoring users' "digital breadcrumbs," PayPal can deny people access to their services based on their credit histories, the ways and means in which users access the web, and other unnecessary discriminatory practices.

I've been using PayPal for at least 7+ years, but have never taken the time to look at their privacy policy. I'm a bit surprised that I haven't thought of examining the fine print on that site, but that's going to change awfully soon. I can only imagine the amount of data that they've collected about me over the 7+ years that I've been a registered user. Yikes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

Technological Impediments as Digital Dividers: China

China Requires Censoring Software on New PCs
Published: June 8, 2009

BEIJING — China has issued a sweeping directive requiring all personal computers sold in the country to include sophisticated software that can filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the Internet.

The software, which manufacturers must install on all new PC’s starting July 1, allows the government to update computers regularly with an ever-changing list of banned Web sites...

Read more at the New York Times

Monday, June 01, 2009

FCC releases rural broadband report‎

FCC releases rural broadband report

WASHINGTON, May 27 (UPI) -- Improved cooperation between governments, tribes and agencies is needed to extend broadband Internet access to rural America, officials say.

In a congressionally mandated report released Wednesday, acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps said enhancing communications between rural authorities is one of the starting points for efforts to establish the high-speed Internet infrastructure vital for rural development, an FCC statement said.

Broadband "is the interstate highway of the 21st century for small towns and rural communities, the vital connection to the broader nation and, increasingly, the global economy," Copps said in the report, entitled, "Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy." "Our nation as a whole will prosper and benefit from a concerted effort to bring broadband to rural America." Read more here.

Download the report here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thanks for a fine semester

Folks, grades have been posted and I want to thank you for a fine seminar. You've inspired me to teach an overload seminar on "the information society" in Fall 2009, so watch for an announcement if you haven't graduated yet.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I hit the "Save Now" button instead of "Publish Post"

When I was going through my RSS feed this morning to delete the posts from LIS 640, I realized that my post about the book I read did not show up. Looking back on the website, I found that I saved my post as a draft instead of publishing it because I hit the wrong button on the bottom of the page. I attached the original text that I was going to put up at the bottom of this post. Sorry that this was a little late.

Thank you to everyone for a great semester. Although I was the token undergraduate in the class, I felt that you all had a great impact on the lessons that I took away from this class. Have a great summer.


Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement’s book The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put Our Children’s Education at Risk provides insight into the world of computer technology within elementary education. Throughout the book, Armstrong and Casement look at the issue of integrating computers into the classroom through different examples. The majority of the book talks about the cognitive development of children and how computers have a negative impact on evolving thought from concrete examples, such as learning to count with Cheerios, to abstract skill sets. Specifically, the authors breakdown how children learn how to read and also how to write. The reading process requires children to think and have a “sensory” connection with the text, such as moving their hands across the page of a book as they read a sentence. Also, the writing process consists of logic rules. Armstrong and Casement feel that computer technology simply spits out images and provides immediate feedback for children, preventing them from thinking on their own.

            The second issue that Armstrong and Casement try to address is the cost of computers within the elementary setting. The Child and the Machine looks at cost through different perspectives, ranging from the initial face cost to the amount of money it takes to update and maintain a stable network environment. There are additional costs, such as security measures to prevent theft, which Armstrong and Casement describe. Armstrong and Casement make the argument that the most important cost that school districts do not successfully implement is the money it takes to provide teachers and other faculty members with adequate technology training. In order to have a successful training program, Armstrong and Casement make the claim that school districts need to allocate 50 percent of their technology budget to training programs. Most schools, however, only provide 1-2% of this budget.

            Overall, the book provided a look into the politics of computers within the classroom and how technology impacts the cognitive development of young children. I felt that the book could have taken a more abstract look at how computers affect the future of students and their socioeconomic placement within the United States. Also, the book is quite outdated and does not mention the impact of Internet technology within the classroom. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Apple snags ex-OLPC security chief

(Sorry, just can't stop!)
Apple snags ex-OLPC security chief

Former director of security architecture at One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Ivan Krstic has joined Apple to help thwart hacker attacks against the Mac operating system.

Krstic, a well-respected innovator who designed the Bitfrost security specification for the OLPC initiative, joined Cupertino this week and will work on core OS security. His hiring comes at a crucial time for a company that ties security to its marketing campaigns despite public knowledge that it’s rather trivial to launch exploits against the Mac.

More at http://blogs.zdnet.com/security/?p=3358

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reliability of Wikipedia

Hey all,

I just found this interesting blurb about how quickly information can be passed on in today's technological world. Unfortunately, it was deliberately falsified info that was entered on Wikipedia as a sociological experiment. Wikipedia removed the false quote quickly, but journalists used it anyway. Glorious. Whatever happened to fact checking? This is an interesting commentary on the weight that people tend to place on Wikipedia. Even the Wikipedia spokesman, Joe Walsh, stated: "We always tell people: If you see that quote on Wikipedia, find it somewhere else too...."

Hope everyone's papers are going well.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

if you broadband it, they will come...

writing papers and stuff as i round out my final semester at UW, and i stumble upon this little gem that plays into a few of the topics from a while back:

Rural America not ready for broadband? Hogwash, say ISPs

given the documented evidence, it certainly seems like "Rural America is both hungry for broadband and anxious to use it." i (being a skeptical person) am skeptical since this information is coming from the actual service providers and other people who are going to be benefiting from getting this out there, but regardless of any of that, i am pretty much down with getting this broadband internet thing out to rural america so granma and granpa joad can set up their 4chan account asap.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Beyond Barbie® and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming

“The debate about gender and games has always operated at multiple levels: it was first a debate about how to ensure that young girls had access to the technologies that would shape their futures; it was also a debate about how more women could participate in the emerging digital industries; and it was also a debate about representation (about what kinds of stories and play experiences were going to circulate broadly in our culture).”

Beyond Barbie® and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming (MIT Press, 2008)
Edited by Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Y. Sun

As a female who has spent significant time gaming (though I wouldn't call myself an actual gamer -- thus reflecting some ambivalence that I'm sure a lot of females might feel), I was really interested in seeing the conclusions and suggestions posed by this book, along with the hows and whys and trends of girls and women in gaming.

The book was published last year as a sort of update to a 2000 book called From Barbie to Mortal Combat. That book was co-edited by Justine Cassell, who contributes an essay to this book. Cassell's book took both an academic and industry view of gender and gaming. What IS the experience of girls in gaming? What SHOULD the experience be like? Do games targeted at girls merely reinforce the socialization of gender differences?

The editors of this book come from varied backgrounds, but it seems like they all share a focus on "serious games" -- those encouraging learning or behavior change, particularly in education and training (for all ages) and in the areas of health/social change. However, they did a pretty good job of selecting contributions that discuss perspectives in game design, gender research, etc. from outside academia.

Where Cassell's book focused on the inequality of playing time as a standard, this book looks more into the whys and hows of how females play and how gender is expressed and repressed within a game. The editors posit that it is still important to consider gender in the design, production and play of games.

Since 2000, the gaming world has changed dramatically. In particular, gaming has become more community-oriented and less arcade or single-player based. Many popular games offer a more flexible experience, including gender play thanks to anonymity of internet: In WoW (World of Warcraft), estimates say that half the female avatars are played by men. Participatory, player-generated content (e.g. Second Life) draws in both females and males. This can also lead to increased technological expertise and exploration (though the editors still point to this as a mostly-male phenomenon).

It's important to note that many games popular among females (so-called pink or purple games, along with serious games, puzzle games and card games) are still not considered "real" games by many in and around the gaming industry -- despite the fact that one survey listed females as the dominant presence in casual games and that females make up an equal or dominant presence in some MMOs (though they're still a mnority in most).

BUT… concern about huge development budgets leads to indie companies and games, thus hopefully leading to better opportunities for diversity thanks to lowered barriers to entry.

Based on this, the editors’ concept of the digital divide seems to be multifocal, as stated above – changed from playing time to expression of gender and more. In this way, the gender gap seems to be closing, with the advent of more flexible, player-customizable content.

My own concept of the digital divide is heavily based on the idea that other social constructs (e.g. poverty, education, etc.) influence the presence of a DD more than the other way around. To some degree, this is supported within this book, but it is not really addressed. The book focuses more on socially-based concepts like being considered an anomaly, etc. for being a female gamer.

Fair use? Copyright violation?

After reading and viewing the materials for Chris's book and presentation, I found an article on a new kind of pre-fab home, the i-house. The house is solar powered, bamboo flooring, catches rainwater, and has other green features. I'm not a fan of pre-fab homes (usually not very well built and can leak at the seams), but in addition to the green aspects, was I found intriguing was the name: i-house. The creators are admittedly big fans of Apple, but state that the i stands for innovation, inspiration, intelligence and integration. Do you think this will come back to bite them? Maybe Apple will not go after them because they are fans? It is not exactly fair use and the punctuation is different from how Apple markets their "i" products. It will be interesting to see what happens and I found the timing fortuitous.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Freedom of Expression® by Kembrew McLeod

i knew from the outset that my book Freedom of Expression® by Kembrew McLeod, was going to be something of a slight stretch to fit into the discussion of the digital/divide. i had never read the book before, but copyright law/fair use exemption/etc are of great interest to me, and i felt that the envelope was open to being stretched a little bit.

the basic premise of the book is to examine the ways that the copyright rich (generally corporate entities) are privatizing their copyrights beyond what the law allows, and thus harming the copyright poor (bloggers, youtubers(?), remixers, djs, students, documentary artists, etc, etc) who are more often than not simply using the languages of our society which are becoming increasingly based on these corporate entities.

through dozens of interesting and applicable examples from a wide array of disciplines, a hefty background in art history and semiotics, and a pranksters eye for pointed mischief, McLeod presents a reasoned case that the copyright rich among us, while attempting to protect their copyrighted content, are in fact potentially irreparably harming society on the whole and violating the wishes of the framers of the Constitution.

the stretching that i am trying to pull off here is to look at the gulf-like divide between these two currently warring entities (copyright holders and users), and address the ways that digital technology is changing the ways that people disseminate, use, abuse, and are in fact entitled to utilize the copyrighted works seeping into every aspect of the ways they live their lives and percieve themselves and the world around them.

i'm not sure whether the book was a primer for the documentary, or the other way around, but there is a documentary of the same name that plumbs very similar depths as the book, but it seems to have a more outward slant in favor of a tremendously cavalier attitude towards fair use:

the book, by comparison, has a wider ranging approach, focusing much on art, remix culture, and other easy examples that are ready, willing and able to be used to defend fair use as the cultural saving grace that's teetering on the verge of extinction in the face of corporate lobbyists, as well as spending many pages discussing the controversies of patenting genes, monsanto's terminator seeds, and what happens when a student applies for a patent for a biological product he invented on university time/equipment (initially he got three years of jail time spent on a chain gang) amongst other issues that are peripheral to the copyright cause.

the subjects addressed on the book, like the issues surrounding copyright, are vast and include everything from genetic trademarks, peer to peer software, sampling laws, the RIAA/MPAA lawsuits, documentary filmmakers, the length of time it takes for nitrate film to decay, and many other initially unrelated thing which upon reevaluation seem quite attached to the ideas of the book.

overall, i'm not certain how well the book fits into the class, and i definitely found myself doubting some of the stretching i did to try and twist it to fit into the framework of the class, but still absolutely agree that fair use and many of the other "open" movements discussed peripherally and indirectly in the book are on the side of bridging the divide (if it in fact possible to stand on either side of a divides bridge?).

of course, you don't have to take *my* word for it, the book is available as a creative commons licensed pdf so try (or remix or cite or collage or make it into a kindle ebook or almost a million other things) before you buy.

The Dumbest Generation

The main thesis of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future [Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30] by Mark Bauerlein (2008) is summarized by its title. Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and was Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Using studies done in between 2000 and 2007, including the 2004 NEA study "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America," Bauerlein documents the decrease in leisure reading, participation in other fine arts, and the increase in online activities by young people. He then links these trends to the assessments of student reading, writing and other academic levels, which have either decreased or shown no improvement over the last few decades.
I chose this book in part because I plan on being a college Reference Librarian, and I thought that I might encounter other faculty with attitudes towards digital media and student achievement similar to Bauerlein’s. However, I was hoping for a more balanced portrayal of the arguments for and against online participation and learning. Bauerlein has very strong opinions, and he doesn’t hesitate to state them, to the point of not only using the term "the dumbest generation" in the title, but throughout the book. He uses very traditional student assessment tools to support his arguments. His thesis can be summarized with this statement: "Among the Millennials, intellectual life can't compete with social life, and if social life has no intellectual content, traditions wither and die. Books can't hold their own with screen images, and without help, high art always loses to low amusements." (p. 234). While I think Bauerlein made some interesting points, and as a librarian I couldn’t help relating to his love and support of books and reading, ultimately his perspective was too didactic and condescending to be persuasive.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Continued extistence of the digital divide

So just this morning, I was talking to some people on the bus after hearing about how they need to go to the library to have internet access to fill out job applications. Some of their comments really captured the essence of the divide issues we have discussing all semester. One person is having a hard time negotiating the various websites and forms necessary to find a job through an employment agency, which is a very good way to get a job these days. This will be his third attempt at submitting his application. Once submitted, he will have wait for an email, meaning more trips to the library to check. The agencies will not phone until after everything is set up online and via email. Another person knows how to fill out forms and navigate the internet, but does not have access at home because it is too expensive. She has access for a few months at a time, under a promotional pricing program, but then cancels, waits and sets it up again under new promotional pricing. She can only get one provider (Charter) and wants to go back to school, but is afraid of falling behind with several online courses she would have to take. Another person, a father, pays his internet bill every month with a credit card so that his children have access for school. So, on top of $50/month, he is accumulating interest and debt.

In just a short conversation with three people, I heard about the digital divide via education, access, and economics. This also addresses the changing nature of public libraries and the roles of librarians as tech support. This re-affirmed my belief that the divides are still active and relevant to many people. Two of the people believed that things could change through public funding, education, and support, but that is would take time. Then after speaking with them, I found this. There is a motion to only post legal notices online, rather than in newspapers.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Issues with multiple social networking identities

I stumbled across this article this morning (http://adage.com/digitalnext/post.php?article_id=136406) and I thought that it would fall into the digital divide abyss. The article explains the issues of managing multiple social networking accounts and how individuals can get themselves into trouble when their profiles, as a whole, do not align. The writer talks about recent Pew and Nielsen data from 2008 to show that the use of social networking has drastically increased. At the end of the article, the writer makes the claim:
"...our desire to participate in social networks is outpacing our ability to efficiently manage these profiles..."
Just something to start off your week.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Digital Divide

The readings as well as the discussion of this semester have clearly demonstrated that there is a digital divide, and though the definition and proposed solutions differ greatly, it is there. The arguments from the week on questioning the divide ring hollow and fail to adequately refute its existence. The digital divide is not a black and white issue with only haves and haves not, there are gradations of access and understanding as noted in Warschauer. For me the digital divide reflects a social, economic divide as well as access to technology and the knowledge to use it effectively. This new information or knowledge society demands certain skills and understanding related to technology and those who do not have access or have less access or fewer skills will be disadvantaged. Though I also don’t have a clear idea on how to bridge the gap, I feel that throwing technology at the problem without training or other support is not the answer. Warschauer in the introduction to Technology and Social Inclusion and many others we read clearly show that technology only solutions fall short of the claims that access is everything. I feel that Warschauer’s model of addressing many different resources as well as using the framework of social inclusion would be able to create sustainable, successful programs.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sex Ed in Texts

Trying to use technology to teach, once again--interesting idea.


Existence of the digital divide

Yes, there is a digital divide. As many others have pointed out, the divide isn't clear cut or even clearly defined. As such, there aren't any easy answers either. The obvious disparities, between those who have little to no access to technology, seem to be the ones that lawmakers, pundits, and the media choose to report on and emphasize. Those divides that are less visible, such as gender or ability divides, concern me even more sometimes. I don't have any real answers to the question of how to close these divides. I am hopeful that things can improve. It seems, at times, that the way our society has been structured will have to change radically for us to address it (I suppose it is rather fitting that I'm writing on May Day...hmmm. Not intentional, I swear). There seem to be psychological barriers, constructed around ideas of identity and who technology is "for"--and these are the parts of the digital divide I think we'll have the hardest time fixing. I'm hoping to address this and try to flesh out these ideas in my paper, particularly around themes of gender and cultural differences.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is there a digital divide?

Yes. The strange feeling that I have is that the disparities seem so large (and technology changes so fast) that it's hard to think about where to start. I've taught in schools, and I'm in the pedagogy SLIS class this semester. One of the major educational techniques that teachers use is something called "scaffolding," where a complex topic or task is slowly rolled out so that the end goal is less confusing, less overwhelming. But where to begin with the digital divide? First, basic literacy needs to improve. If that divide isn't closed, then the digital divide stays.

There are some skills that I learned in school that I take for granted, like knowing how to type. When I look at a keyboard, I see its complexity, but I'm not anxious about it. Then I think about how tedious it is to fill out online job applications, to attach a resume, a cover letter, that sort of thing, wondering how I'll stand out. But when I think about going through this process with concerns about basic skills, then I can understand how the willingness to do something exceeds how frequently it gets done (which is one of the findings of the book that I read).

The reason I selected my book was that I thought it might more explicitly address the sense of hierarchy (or scaffolding) that goes into learning anything. I think that's necessary, a plan of action that builds upon previous steps, the way that many teachers build clear expectations into their lessons. I imagine school systems are doing this more because of the requirement to build standards according to certain ages. What should be first? What are the early skills that students should learn?

The state of Wisconsin lays it out like this. The thing to keep in mind when looking at this is how much explanation and education would need to go into each standard. The goals are ambitious and the skills already complex by grade 4. That's not a bad thing. But I think you can get a sense of how quickly a gap can grow when you imagine someone falling behind these initial steps, while another swath of students learns the skills.

wrapping it up

it's pretty clear that there are certain readily identifiable groups of people who are being disenfranchised as far as availability of technology. the specifics are varied and broad regarding the groups, and include gender/class/age/race/geographical location, and so on. also, the definition of technology/digital, as used in this class, is very broad, and encompasses many issues including cell phones, web design, email, and even the simplicity of availability of hardware.

identifying functional solutions to these problems is looking to be a very difficult task since there seems to be a certain amount of momentum involved with perpetuating the divides in question. there is also the question of whether in some instances, specifically with regard to broadband access, solutions are even needed.

having read and heard so much from this class, i have to admit that the future looks somewhat disheartening, what with America's school system consistently leaving our nations poor and minority children behind in almost every conceivable way. i am not giving up hope in the face of these overwhelming odds, but it seem like an almost complete overhaul of the way that we treat technology in schools and the home is needed to turn the numerous problems we're looking at around for our country, and even then there's no guarantee it's gonna work since it will be many decades until we see real evidence of the improvements across the board. anyway, i'm rambling a little bit, and will leave it at that.

Douglas Coupland, "Microserfs"

Coded messages

Several coded messages are included within the text:[12]

- On pages 104–105 there is an encoded binary message that reads, when decoded:

"I heart LiSA Computers
This is my computer. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My computer is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me, my computer is useless. Without my computer, I am useless. I must use my computer true. I true. I must compute faster than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must outcompute him before he outcomputes me. I will. Before God, I swear this creed. My computer and myself are defenders of this country. We are masters of our enemy. We are the saviours of my life. So be it until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

Tinned Peaches Yttrium San Fran"

This message is an adapted version of the Rifleman's Creed.

- On pages 308–309, consonants appear on one page and vowels on the other. This text is taken from a letter written by Patty Hearst to her parents when she was kidnapped.

Final Thoughts

Is there a digital divide and what should be done about it?

I agree with Nardi and O'Day in their argument in Information Ecologies that there is a foundation of social construction of the electronic environment. And if we can agree that there are real and perpetuating social divisions along lines of race, class, gender, education, etc., then it follows that those divisions will be perpetuated in constructed online environments. So as long as there are fundamental social divisions, there will be a digital divide.

But as to what should be done about it? That's much harder. In many ways the discussion of digital divides is a discussion of the failures of the public education system. As such I think there needs to be recognition that a level educational playing field is a myth, and address the problem appropriately.

I think there is a great deal of value in investing in universal access technologies and paradigms. Both the iphone and screen readers have similar problems in rendering websites with poor compatibility standards. Mobile devices and people on dial-up also face similar constraints in terms of bandwidth. Designing a system that allows multiple types of access benefits not one user type, but many.

Digital Divide... duh!

After 15 weeks in LIS 640, I feel that it is safe to make the claim that the digital divide exists. Through each reading and discussion, I have found that technology can either create or prevent opportunity for individuals within the United States and also across the globe. I don't think that there is one specific "digital divide". Instead, I see the digital divide as a phenomenon that has the potential to occur in all forms of technology. Technology's context within a specific society and its application can either make or break how effective it is for users. But what about the individuals who cannot access technology due to socioeconomic factors? The issue of digital divides doesn't necessarily have to do with technology itself; rather, it also has to do with political barriers to entry (high or low) as well as economic standards. Overall, I think that it is hard to say that there is a specific "digital divide" that we, as students, can combat.

Do I have the specific answer to solve the issues stemming from the digital divide? No. However, I do feel that there are steps that our society needs to take in order to reduce the negative impact that technology may have on the lives of individuals, whether young or old, within the U.S.. The largest barrier, I feel, is that of simply purchasing technology in order to facilitate its use. In order to provide access to technology for all who wish to seek it, I believe that firms who are subsidizing the cost, such as the government, need to make sure that they are making smart purchases that will last over a long duration of time. Buying goods that will not be technologically sustainable, meaning that they will become obsolete quickly, does no good for those who purchase and those who use these goods.

A digital divide?

Now that there's a substantial amount of scholarship out on the digital divide, I feel that future progress in regard to the creation of theory and policy can only be had through an examination of other conceptual tools. Looking into Tichenor, Donohue and Olie's Knowledge Gap and other modes of analysis with help to show that the underlying concerns about a digital divide have been voiced in other areas and earlier eras.

There's definitely inequity in regard to access and use of ICTs throughout the world and between various groups of people. I believe that in order to address the underlying issues, we need to depart from categorizing people into groups like the information-haves and have-nots. While it may be just a point of semantics, I think that it creates an impression that there are specific methods/policies/etc. that can be universally enacted to ameliorate the digital divide. One of the many points that I gleaned from this class is that the diversity of human needs and experiences cannot be adequately addressed through linear methods.

I feel that grassroots activism is an effective way for people to address the information needs of their specific groups and communities. Education is always a key element in this process, but I worry (with good reason) that many of the humanitarian efforts made by corporations within the U.S. and other industrialized nations to help address information poverty are market-driven and not helping marginalized groups develop the skills and tools they need to make informed decisions about how they use ICTs in their lives.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Yes, there is a digital divide. I have no argument with that, and while I have no one solution, I'm not defeated either. What should be done about the divide? Public schools and libraries work very hard to help narrow this particular divide locally. I am continually impressed by the librarians and teachers in my area and what they are able to do with what they have in regards to money, time, and training. I hope that the technology we have can help narrow other kinds of divides. If you have a moment, help locally by filling out and passing on the Public Service Commission broadband survey. More respondents are needed.

Digital Divide(s): Theory v. Praxis

Digital divides: a newer term, perhaps losing its vogue, for "social inequities" for the Information(alist) Age. This is the best explanation I can give for the concept we have been examining all semester. Arguing for or against their existence is an exercise without much merit, because digital divides are the differences in access and equity inherent to an increasingly networked world. The true debate, therefore, is in matter of degree and in examining divides in theory vs. praxis. In other words, a "Mercedes Divide" (with thanks to Michael Powell; this one never gets old) is still a divide.

As for theory v. praxis, the trouble with overwhelming issues of social injustice is that they are...overwhelming. Many people become bogged down in pointing out that other needs ought to take precedence over providing areas of the disconnected Fourth World (c.f. Castells) with ICT. Yet it seems to me that these things need not compete against each other and, in fact, that they are often so inextricably interrelated that to place them on a hierarchy often unreasonably and unrealistically simplifies them beyond meaning. Scholars such as Jeffrey James, for example, in responding to Compaine, Fink and Kenny, underscore the cumulative (exponential, perhaps) effect that IT innovations have in developing countries in the way they foment further innovations, research and discovery. This is just one way in which these issues form a complex relational web with each other, if we assume the inverse is also likely true.

To be sure, neoluddites who are wary of technology may reject technological engagement in the developing world (be that in the rural US or rural Namibia, to name just two examples) as a solution to sociopolitical ills, but I hazard a bet that the majority of such people are outsiders who frequently benefit from ICT in their own life, whether or not they recognize their own cultural engagement on a macro scale.

For people who are critical of technology developments being simply a means to "open a new market" to transnational corporate conglomerate interests for exploitation purposes, however, but are not against technological innovation wholesale on moral or other grounds, I do believe that there may be another way. My own understanding of these issues remains too lacking in sophistication to develop these thoughts without a great deal more precision (check back with me in about four years), but I do reject the notion put forth by some classmates in this thread that the globalized capitalist corporate monoculture is here to stay, and get used to it, full stop. It actually doesn't have to be that way. Human beings still have agency and still have control to manifest another vision of society in a manner that feels more palatable and more humane.

While some individual projects and programs designed to close/ford/bridge/insert-overused-metaphor-here the digital divide may reasonably seem to be so much tilting at windmills, they all don't have to be. Coupled with agitation and renewed efforts in other arenas to reform, rebuild and otherwise wrest back control into the hands of the people, these efforts can and will be successful and have meaning. Right now, for me, all of these discussions are largely academic. Will I become more disillusioned or enthused after my summer spent working on concrete, pragmatic policy initiatives designed to address some of these divides? Only time will tell. I am hoping that experience, as well as that of the reading of the few hundred books and articles on this subject that I suspect is just around the corner for me will elucidate these issues further. For now, I can say unequivocally that to ask if there is a divide is the wrong question. The right one is to ask what we, as global neighbors in the 21st century, intend to do about making our neighborhood a place we all would want to live. That, to me, is theory into praxis.

Narrowing the Divide

There is a digital divide. It exists on a world wide scale, a national scale, between neighborhoods, and within households themselves. It can have multiple meanings from access to ICT’s, to skills, to the desire to use those skills. Inequalities also exist in education, mobility, and income level which all have a direct affect on the divide. With a problem of this scale and complexity, I don’t feel there is a way to solve it. I think the best we can do given the structure of our society, is to narrow it.

I don’t want to admit defeat but all the solutions based on access and skills proposed in our readings cannot achieve their goals in time to be effective. Technology and the skills needed to use them are advancing too fast for the poor, unaware, and undereducated to catch up. Initiatives like OLPC and providing universal broadband access will be outdated by the time they reach their target audiences. I think the focus needs to be on education and awareness. Providing access and skills can help narrow the divide but to be really effective there needs to an increase in education and general awareness.

Our country and the rest of the world aren’t going to change from a market/capital based society. ICT’s are always going to be “trickled down” from the top to the bottom. With a focus on education and awareness, hopefully we can narrow the gap by decreasing the number of people at the bottom. ICT’s have become an integral part of society whether we like it or not, and the countries and people without access to it cannot compete in the modern world which in turn makes it even harder for them to adapt technology.

Beyond Exoticism

In Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World, Timothy Taylor looks at the production and consumption of exoticism in music, with particular regard to a western conception of the “Other”, a new sense of difference brought about by the ‘discovery’ of the New World. Drawing on a variety of sources, the author examines distinctive manifestations of exoticism both diachronically and synchronically, providing historical depth and cultural specificity in his discussion of otherness and selfhood in Europe and America. Accordingly, he has divided the publication into two parts – colonialism and globalization – which mirror two distinctive expressions of exoticism that appear on two sides of the Atlantic. While he attempts to understand the historical processes that underscore exoticism, he in fact demonstrates the iterative character of otherness, that is, the re-inscription of an established notion of difference at different moments and in different places. Illustrating his thesis with a number of carefully chosen case studies, he adds considerably to the extensive literature on exoticism in musicology by analyzing critically the economic circumstances and the social contexts where difference is produced and consumed, music providing an ideal locus for interrogating the multiple attributes of exoticism in the past and in the present.

After examining the emergence of exoticism in Europe and showing the ways in which colonialism and imperialism shaped different representations of otherness in western music, Taylor argues that the rise of tonality in the western musical world created a sonic hierarchy, where musical cultures that have different concepts of tonality, if tonality even exists, were deemed as inferior. He uses opera as a vehicle to demonstrate how otherness became visual and sonic public displays in Western Europe, showing the ways in which Europeans understood the colonial project. Taylor then goes on to discuss how imperialism contributed to the rise of the commodification of exoticism, where everything exotic (mostly music and artifacts from colonized areas, southeast and east Asia, and the Middle East, especially Turkey) was luxurious and non-western musical sounds were appropriated.

In Part 2, Taylor explores the continuation of exoticism in America. Following a theoretical introduction concerning the character of globalization, Taylor considers the role of music and consumption. In particular he argues that the ideology of multiculturalism is linked to the economics of multinationalism where business corporations invoke musical pluralism to expand market share. Probably some of most relevant sections for this class are in the latter half of the book, where Taylor explores the use of world music in television advertisements. Detailing the musical characteristics of a generic sound aesthetic, he proposes that the distinction between self and other is now eroded, for audiences are easily able to experience difference without risk. He correlates this development with the rapid circulation of information where musical luxury is viewed as economic necessity, world music now being a symbol of prestige in a cosmopolitan age. I thought this area could use some expansion, especially with his background in music and technology. I was really hoping for more of an analysis of how digital music technology has changed the industry.

In the meantime

Is there a digital divide, and if so, what should be done about it?

Yes, there is a digital divide, but I feel this is just another symptom of the other inequalities in our world, and in the United States in particular. Not so much because the U.S. is better or worse, but I believe the way we fund our educational system is a major contributing factor.

The change that would make the largest dent in this and other divides is changing the way we fund public education. Basing our school funding on property taxes and state funds causes issues with the quality of teachers, supplies, buildings, and perceptions of education. Some solutions would be to base our education funding more equally though federal taxation, provide more funds to the localities where students have the most challenges, and develop curriculum that incorporate technology use across subject fields. I am aware that some people feel that redefining the way we fund education is bordering on "communism/socialism" or believe that the federal government may have too much control over curriculum. While I understand these fears, the benefits of a better educational system would improve our entire society.

However, since I don't project this as happening in the immediate future, there are steps to be taken by individuals and organizations who recognize this issue. Although the socioeconomic divides sometimes seem insurmountable, by recognizing the divide and providing small solutions we can take intermediate steps. Libraries in particular can help in several ways by providing learning environments and technology resources to a wide demographic, being aware of patron technology needs and differing skill levels and abilities, focusing available resources towards training staff and the public in information technology use, and directing people to other resources that provide free or low-cost technology education.

The question that has no answer.

The digital divide is another mirror to use in examining the inequalities that already exist between people of different geographic locations, race, class and gender.

In my opinion, to solve these inequalities, we would need a revolution, which, unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a very popular idea. It doesn’t appear to me that in a capitalist society, equality can be achieved. It is a system based on continuous growth, it places value on profits, rather than ideas. So, until we take all the wonderful examinations, analyses and discussion that we’ve been having in our University classes to the streets, I believe most efforts at finding solutions for these problems will be ineffective on a large scale.

I also think it would be beneficial to reevaluate the idea that technology=progress. For example, I’m not so sure that this blog has been particularly useful for me in this class. I can’t say that I’ve learned too much from the blog itself. Why can’t we just get together in person and talk? I don’t think technology is always useful for people. Why do I have to get an email from my boss at work about something when I sit 20 feet away from her? Call me a luddite, but I have to wonder if I might know my neighbors if we weren’t all on our computers and watching TV. Maybe then we could have some dialogue about what’s going on in the world. I know it would be silly to stop or deny technological change, but I think it may help our dilemma if we realized maybe not everyone wants to be a part of online networking or sending emails or buying stuff from ebay. On this note, more research on “non-users,” is a good idea, as well as also how to accommodate these people in a world in which it’s becoming increasingly hard to function and prosper without use of technologies.

The Persistence of the Digital Divide

The existence of a digital divide, if not multiple forms of digital divide, is difficult to deny. Inequalities in hardware, software, and network access are widespread, and divides in skills, abilities, education and senses of self-efficacy also endure. There is no magic bullet solution to such a multivalent problem, but attention to they ways that digital divides are being recreated may be useful.

In particular, it seems that the regulatory and commercial context of digital media in the US at this point in time encourages digital divides. ISPs are governed by lax regulation, and in the absence of universal service imperatives and incentives, can easily absolve themselves of public service motives in favor of variable pricing, rhetoric of customer choice, and lobbying in favor of their own monopolies. Commercial imperatives are privileged above any equalizing effects of access to digital networks, recreating and exacerbating divides of financial, social and educational divides. Thus, there is a direct political element to the digital divide, which could potentially be addressed through activism, legislation, and policy choices.

But, digital divides are also recreated on the hardware level; reproducing the same forms of technology, using the same types of interfaces, and drawing on the expertise of the same few companies and individuals, seems unlikely to result in forms of digital technology that can cross socioeconomic divides. Integration of diverse perspectives in the development stages would seem to be a means of improving this cycle, making it increasingly important to bring nontraditional candidates into technology firms and cultures. A big challenge, to be sure.

Contexts of the Digital Divide

There is little doubt at this point that a digital divide does exist; the question is in how best to define it. Is it the difference between access and education, between broadband and dial-up, between a computer in every home and a computer in every village? All of these distinctions exist, and all of them impact the lives of those on either side of the divide in different ways. The more pressing question is, are all of them problems, or are some of them merely the inevitable outcome of variation in and among society?

It seems to me that all of these digital divides have one thing in common: they can all be seen as yet another manifestation of preexisting social differences. For example, the digital divide in access is greater among blacks and Hispanics than among whites in this country. Studies show that even when schools from lower socioeconomic districts have the same number of computers as higher-income schools, the students do not benefit in the same way. Technology is not something to be considered as an external force, bearing no relationship to the preexisting culture; technologies were developed within that culture and their distribution and uses are shaped by it. This is why education and income problems cannot simply be solved by throwing technology at them, and why all aspects of the digital divide break down along very predictable lines. Perhaps instead of working to overcome the digital divide, we should work to overcome ingrained problems such as lack of socioeconomic mobility and racial disparities, and the closing of the digitial divide will be seen as a mark of success rather than an independent goal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More on gender, perception, and learning

I just found a study that explores people's perception of their computer-email-web (CEW) fluency to their actual abilities performing related tasks. There were 61 subjects with 51% female. This study found that males and females had virtually identical actual CEW knowledge, but in general, males perceived their CEW knowledge has higher that their actual knowledge while the female perception was lower than the actual knowledge. In case the link to the full-text article does not work, here is the citation:

Computers in Human Behavior
Volume 23, Issue 5, September 2007, Pages 2321-2344,
Ulla Bunz, Carey Curry, William Voon
Full text available through Science Direct

Here is an article that looks at how female high school students respond to single-sex classrooms for computer education versus mixed-sex classrooms. Taken place in Nova Scotia, the general conclusion is that females responded better in single-sex settings.

In Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, there are several ongoing projects and past projects that look into topics surrounding Gender and Information Technology. I found a conference presentation from the Women and Information Society Conference in 2000 that outlines some of those projects and resources.

Gender and technology in learning

Ever since our class last week, I've been intrigued about how boys and girls learn technology. Harvard has a website devoted just to that and uses video clips from the PBS special The Digital Divide. I am curious about your thoughts on this topic.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"My Internet is Not the Same as Your Internet."

On the heels of the State Journal article, here's an article on social media site Mashable referring back to Sunday's NY Times article on how advertising, infrastructure and popular sites pose a conundrum in developing countries: widespread use with little profit. Some sites (Veoh, for example) have blocked their sites from use in certain countries, simply because the profit isn't there. Others (like Facebook) are considering other options, including lowering the quality of photos and videos for easier loading.

So what's the biggest issue here? Is it a parable about equality of technology in rural areas? A sign that some sites really aren't universal? What's the best way to deal with this?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

WSJ: Rural residents without high-speed Internet struggle to keep up

Doug King publishes his keyboard music online and his wife, Marjorie, sells home-made pottery to customers in Iceland, China and New Zealand. But doing business from their rural Dane County house is virtually impossible without high-speed Internet.

"We got to the point where we’re simply unable to do business" using the dial-up Internet their phone company provides, King said. The couple finally signed up for a wireless modem from Verizon, which in the last year has sought to build nine cell towers in rural Dane County to keep up with growing demand...(more)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stuck in the Shallow End

Stuck in the Shallow End is an action research project about computer science education in American high schools. There currently exists a racial/ethnic imbalance in students who not only enroll in an advanced placement Computer Science courses but also amongst those who have access to such curricula. Margolis and colleagues draw upon the historical inequalities in swimming (yes swimming) to help illustrate how legacies of social exclusion are produced and reproduced throughout space and time.

Three high schools in the Los Angeles Metro area were selected as case studies; East River, predominately working-class and Hispanic, Westward, mostly African American with a “science and technology” curriculum and Canyon, a charter school comprised of mostly white upper-class students. With little surprise the two aforementioned schools were saddled with a multitude of problems including, overcrowding, high teacher to student ratios, many of which were poorly trained, and curricula with little if any emphasis on computer science. Canyon, by contrast, was well funded, well equipped and required that all students enroll in technology courses for graduation.

Margolis and colleagues’ research is distinguished from similar works, which highlight the glaring inequalities in American education, in that they helped launch an intuitive to provide computer science training for teachers at underfunded schools. In 2004 the Computer Science Equity Alliance (CSEA) was established along with the UCLA/LASUSD Summer AP Computer Science Teachers Institute.

While there are glaring methodological issues with this research Stuck in the Shallow End successfully illustrates the significant investment in time and money that’s required for a high school computer science curriculum to thrive. Many of the issues experienced by teachers and students in the cases presented here go well beyond computers, technology, access and education. Issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and low self-esteem are all issues that will have also have to be addressed if these inequities are to be eradicated.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


...and Randy Marsh.


Short article about research being done on using twitter to help paralyzed people communicate.

Nearly Roadkill

Sullivan, C., & Bornstein, K. (1996). Nearly roadkill : an Infobahn erotic adventure. New York NY: High Risk Books.

On the surface, a reader might assume that this novel is nothing more than futuristic, dystopian, utopian love story from the mid 1990s. The novel is set during the time when the government, in conjunction with monolithic marketing concerns, is requiring national registration for all internet users, and building the tools to track registration evaders.

The two main characters are gender non-conformists intoxicated with the internet’s facilitation of virtual interactions for marginalized identity and special interest groups, who become 'nearly roadkill' on the information superhighway by being caught between government policies and identity/special interest politics. The book is written entirely in chat transcripts, email logs, and electronic clippings. By mimicking the fragmentation of textuality and intertextuality of cyberspace, with multiple narrators and many different forms of electronic ephemera constructing the narrative, a relatively simple story is enveloped in the folds of a virtual world. Central to the novel is the social construction of gender, the tension between regulation and innovation, and the tension between normativity and otherness, largely focusing on gender performance in the online world.

Despite being fictitious, and focusing on the tensions surrounding marginalized groups, the novel also portrays the controversies and discussions surrounding the historical moment that internet usage became widespread in the US. These discussions include themes such as marketing, electronic surveillance, privacy, control, gender, online personas, online representations of identity, counter-culture, sexuality, sexual harassment, sexual liberation, public discourse, and religion.

However, the authors also astutely demonstrate the that internet provided access to social support and community building for certain marginalized groups that was previously unavailable. On the other hand, the representation suffers from the invisibility of race and class endemic to the mainstream discourses at the time, portraying the US of the future as largely white, largely unconcerned with race, with users limited in access to the internet only by their lack of interest. These themes have remained relatively constant in discussions of the tensions between the physical and the virtual worlds and successfully carry the novel over into the 21st century.

Working-Class Network Society

In Working-Class Network Society: Communication Technology and the Information Have-Less in Urban China, Jack Linchuan Qiu breaks down the dichotomy of information haves and have-nots by discussing the information “have-less.” Qiu frames his discussion around the emergence of a new working class of “network labor” and the effects of technology on the lives of migrants, the unemployed, micro-entrepreneurs, youth, retirees, and other marginalized groups in China.

Working-Class Network Society is broken down into three major sections: “Networks Materialized,” “The People of Have-Less,” and “A New Working-Class in the Making.” Qiu discusses both the regulation and resistance associated with the rise of Internet Cafés and inexpensive mobile telephony in China. After discussing the ways in which ICTs are provided in working-class communities, Qiu explores the information needs of specific “have-less” groups. Out of these groups, I found Qiu’s examination of migrant laborers within urban villages to be of particular interest, especially when juxtaposed with the effects of ICT use on the indigenous population.

Having conducted five years of empirical research in twenty Chinese cities, Qiu uses Working-Class Network Society as a means to discuss not only the underlying socioeconomic issues of the Chinese network society, but also to address the ways in which politics and government/institutional policies have contributed to the current Chinese informational state. By highlighting the diverse needs of the “have-less,” Qiu debunks the pedestrian view that insufficient access to technology is the primary cause of information poverty.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World" - Goldsmith and Wu

Jack Goldsmith is a Harvard Law professor best known for having a protracted and public argument with legal scholar David Post about the fundamental regulatory nature of the Internet. Post, like so many early Net adopters, argued that there were factors intrinsic to the Internet making extant jurisdictional paradigms no longer relevant in the cyberspace realm. Jurisdiction has historically functioned via the correspondence of geographic and political borders; these have been commonly understood and recognized by those subject to their laws, thus allowing for consent of the governed necessary for the enforcement of laws. Yet for many, the early Internet knew no such boundaries; it transcended international borders and existed in a space that was both geographically territory-less and its own distinct territory. The Internet was nowhere and everywhere, constituting a brave new borderless world and suggesting untapped and exciting potential to many.

Goldsmith's project has largely been to call baloney on these claims, and this book is no exception. Along with Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, he has developed his ideas into a general-audience accessible tome, enumerating and elucidating the Internet's technological and historical underpinnings, major legal challenges to net sovereignty (e.g. the French Yahoo! Nazi memorabilia trial), and zones of contention (e.g. China). Despite a somewhat disjointed organization, and using numerous photos and diagrams to illustrate their points, Goldsmith and Wu dismantle arguments that the Internet is free from borders, boundaries and controls. On the contrary, they suggest, people in this Internet-powered era of globalization may, in fact, be more subject to them than ever before. At each end of an Internet communiqué, transaction or transmission is a human being doing the communicating. Where that human is is of utmost importance, and Goldsmith eschews the Utopian visions of the cyberlibertarians in favor of reminding his readers of that singular fact.

"This is L.H. Puttgrass signing off and heading for the tub."

Generation Digital

Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet

by Kathryn C. Montgomery

The MIT Press, 2007

ISBN: 9780262134781

I choose this book because I thought it would help me consider the digital divide in terms of sociology, culture, and behavior. Based on what I have read so far, Montgomery is focused on the online experience of children, tween, and teens in the United States (or at least those who have easy access to the Internet). Montgomery describes herself as “a media scholar, advocate, and a parent” (preface), and it's clear that she cares about the influence of the Internet on children. From the beginning of the book, she is critical of market research and advertising aimed at children, and she discusses what she sees as the “breakdown of barriers between 'content and commerce,'” (29), specifically in online information for children. Generation Digital is interesting because of Montgomery's fairly critical tone; it's with an air of disdain that she describes the evolution of marketing to children. She highlights some particularly icky techniques and workshop descriptions from mid-1990's marketing conferences (Ex: encouraging the use of emotions and relationship to market from the “inside out” p. 26), that are sickening in their cunning and heavily-researched manipulation of children. I do feel the danger of becoming distracted by these examples of corporate greed. But, as I continue to read, I'm focusing on what Montgomery has to say about the digital divide (it is mentioned specifically, though briefly, later in the book), her thoughts on other generations as they relate to this one (she does place Internet advertising to children in context of the history of advertising through media), and children in other countries.

Achieving Diversity: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians

Edited By: Barbara I. Dewey and Loretta Parham
ISBN: 9781555705541

This book, partially inspired by the National Diversity in Libraries Conference held in Georgia (2005), intends to provide American librarians with practical solutions to increasing diversity in their employees, collections, and services and accommodating a changing and varied patron base. It also addresses the ideal of the library to provide equitable services to everyone regardless of disability, race, gender, sexual preference, age, etc. which requires an adaptable stance and multiple approaches.

This book has many contributors who address the issue of diversity from several avenues including providing diversity training to staff, increasing and expanding special collections to highlight minority needs and interests, tailoring collection development to better target minority needs, and providing opportunities that make librarianship as a career something that more diverse populations of people consider and pursue.

Partially because of the wide scope this book covers, the audience it is attempting to provide solutions for is difficult to determine. Several articles are directed primarily towards library administrators and diversity officers. Most of the case studies presented take place at large academic libraries which often have more resources than many other types of libraries where these issues might be at the forefront. Rural and public libraries, those I feel are most affected by certain diversity issues, are often left out of the discussion entirely. Some of the articles explain attempted solutions that failed. Many of the programs developed to target minority populations for a career in library science focus on small groups of people and were very resource intensive.

As far as the digital divide is concerned, this book would be of very little assistance to most librarians dealing with this issue. The case study this book uses to discuss the divide is an academic institution. The authors of the chapter of the book entitled “Diversity and the Digital Divide at an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) : The University of Maryland Eastern Shore”, define the digital divide for the purposes of this article as “those who do not have access to computers and/or the Internet.” Therefore, their solution is simply to provide more computers in the library, laptops that can be checked out, and other various technology to their students. As we know from our readings, this access issue is only a portion of the divide, and this solution does not fully address the challenges and concerns that librarians working with diverse populations are faced with.

Although this book provides some real solutions and suggestions, I would not recommend it for librarians attempting to help decrease the digital divide.

Cinderella or Cyberella: Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society, edited by Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, presents a series of essays on the roles technology can play in enabling "agency, capability, and choices for women and [in their ability to help] change the conditions of the disempowered." Each chapter discusses the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have provided opportunities for women’s social and economic empowerment, to varying degrees of success. The contributors present case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America, and focus their discussions solely on women and girls. However, they seem to include the men and boys benefitting directly from the empowerment of their female counterparts in their "Cinderella" and "Cyberella" characterizations.

In the introduction, Hafkin provides a thorough overview of both the purpose and content of the book, emphasizing the shared belief of the writers that the implementation of ICTs will provide the most comprehensive and successful means for empowerment. The next two chapters present statistics and arguments, both for and against, the contribution of ICTs to women’s empowerment. And the remainder of the book considers the efficacy of specific projects and activities that are being, or have been, implemented around the world.

Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing

Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher addresses the lack of women in undergraduate computer science programs. Margolis, a feminist social scientist, and Fisher, then the associate dean for undergraduate education at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, analyze the way girls and boys are socialized to use and relate to computers from a very young age. The book traces this socialization from kindergarten through high school, looking at both the school and home environments.
After looking at the ways children and young teens use and relate to computers, the focus shifts to a case study of the computer science program at Carnegie Mellon. The authors interviewed both male and female students from 1995-1999, following them as they either stayed in the major, transferred to a new department, or left Carnegie Mellon. Of particular interest to the authors (and readers) is the culture of computing and hacking, from which the female students often felt excluded. Differences in perceived interest, as judged by peers, instructors, and the students themselves, played a large part in the women students' success and continuation in the program.
To end the book, Margolis and Fisher discuss possible solutions to this gender divide. Part of this is a summer institute created for high school computer science teachers, which was aimed at both teaching C++ to the instructors and educating them on how to recruit, teach, and inspire teen girls into their classes. At the undergraduate level, they detail the various changes made in the admission process and curriculum at Carnegie Mellon.
This book was published in 2002, and as all the data is from the late to mid-1990's, it is a bit outdated. However, some of the strategies and teaching techniques, along with the critique of computing culture, are very interesting and still relevant.

Technology and Soical Inclusion

Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide by Mark Warschauer seeks to refocus the arguments on the digital divide away from a simplistic have/have-nots explanation. Warschauer understands ICTs as well as access to be embedded in society and dependent on a number of different kinds of resources rather than an isolated aspect of a society. In the introduction, he outlines the shortcomings he sees in using the digital divide as a framework, instead Warschauer proposes social inclusion as an alternative. The next two chapters he provides an historical overview of technology and social inclusion as well as the theoretical framework of his argument. Warschauer explores four types of resources (physical, digital, human, and social) that must be present in order to create more equitable access and inclusion. A good overview of Warschauer's argument is “the starting point for a progressive consideration of ICT in any institution should not be the digital divide...but rather the broader social structures and functions of the institutions and how ICT might be used to help make them more democratic, equitable, and socially inclusive” (209).

One of the greatest strengths of Warschauer's book is the diversity of resources, research, and examples used to illustrate his points. He uses data from his own research in India, China, Brasil, Egypt, and the US as well as drawing in studies from countries all around the world, thus allowing him to engage the links between social inclusion and technology in multiple contexts with a vast array of resources. This book did come out in 2004, but I feel it has remained a compelling argument for the expansion and redefinition of the digital divide.

Technology and In/equality: Questioning the Information society

Edited by Sally Wyatt, Flis Henwood, Nod Miller and Peter Senker

This collection of articles seeks to explore the diverse implications of information communication technologies through studies in three main areas: media, education and training, and work. Within these areas they seek to explore questions of access and control over resources such as information, knowledge, skills, and income.

The editors noted in the introduction their desire to open up the literature on technology and inequality by providing studies that disprove notions of ‘technological determinism’ and suggest incorporating the impact many social and cultural aspects that create, shape and determine how technologies are adopted and used in society.

The first part: ‘Promises and Threats: access and control in media technologies contains four chapters that question assumptions of access, control and ownership, claims made about optimistic predictions about newer technologies such as the Internet and its effect on participatory democracy and a means to distribute information and ideas, and the histories of previous technologies introduced to the public with similar rhetoric.

The second part: Exclusion: inclusion and segregation: new technology and skill in education includes two chapters of case studies preformed by the authors: one focusing on gender and technology, and one that examines the nature and effects of distance learning. The third part: Technology, inequality, and economic development contains three chapters that focus on economic and employment issues.

Published in 2000, this book is slightly outdated in some of its policy references, but overall it provides a solid basis of interdisciplinary and mulitfaceted case studies and approaches to technology and inequality.

The Digital Divide by R.L. Mack summary

The Digital Divide: Standing at the Intersection of Race and Technology by Raneta Lawson Mack is not written as a straightforward analysis of the digital divide, or as a discussion of its possible solutions. Rather, it is an exploration of a vareity of possible causes, effects, and dynamically changing consequences of the social detriments shared by black Americans in the 21st century.

Ultimately, Mack sees the digital divide in the context of more than two hundred years of American culture in which blacks have been systematically disadvantaged compared to whites. She spends a good deal of time in the early parts of her book detailing these scenarios in order to lay the groundwork for her argument later on that while economic access to computer technology is an important part of the digital divide, the more pressing long-term concern in overcoming the digital divide is relevance. If people generally do not trust technology, she argues, and they do not see this particular technology to be relevant to them, they will prefer to invest their limited resources somewhere else. Mack sees the problem of relevance to be largely one of education, although she also argues that providers of online content would do well to address the concerns of minority communities, such as addressing privacy concerns and providing more in the way of multicultural content.

The book suffers a little from its 2001 publication date; large sections focused on online economies and federal government policies are no longer relevant. However, the overall shape of the analysis is still interesting, and provides some useful insights into one aspect of the digital divide problem.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I seem to remember a discussion about Amazon's marketplace of digital piecemeal work for a few cents per item and stumbled on this art project that raises awareness of it:


Grown up Digital summary

Grown Up Digital is Don Tapscott’s follow up to his 1997 book Growing Up Digital. The book is directed toward older generations like the Baby Boomers and Generation X, and aims to help them understand and accept what Tapscott calls the Net Generation (Net Gen). Anyone born between 1977 and 1997 is a member of the Net Gen, or someone who has grown up in a digital world.

Tapscott believes that older generations have a negative view of the Net Gen and that it stems from a digital and generational gap. He argues that growing up digital and using technologies like the internet, cell phones, and Web 2.0 makes the Net Gen fundamental different from previous generations. If given the chance, Tapscott predicts the Net Generation will make unprecedented and largely positive changes to society using digital tools.

The book is separated into three sections. The first section introduces the Net Generation and highlights how they are different from previous generations using eight characteristics or norms. Some examples of these norms are; the desire of freedom in choice and expression, wanting to customize and personalize, demanding of integrity and openness, and the desire to collaborate. Tapscott uses these eight norms to show the motivations behind the changes that the Net Geners are bringing to education and the workforce.

The second section of the book details some of these changes, along with changes to family values and consumerism. One of the changes to education Tapscott advocates is the move from teacher orientated (lecture) teaching toward a more student orientated one, a style focusing on student input and collaboration. Some workplace changes by the Net Gen include having fun, a desire for speed, and a work anywhere attitude. Tapscott argues that institutions like education and business will need to change and adapt to these new styles of work and learning or they will fall behind and cause further harm to society.

The final section explains how the Net Gen will transform society by changing the way governments operate and taking social causes to a global scale. Tapscott uses examples like Obama’s presidential campaign, Facebook, and TakingItGlobal as proof that the Net Generation has changed politics and citizen engagement. Tapscott believes the Net Generation can use Web 2.0 tools and networks to bring about positive changes quicker and globally.

The tone of the book is overwhelmingly positive, and in favor of all the changes the author feels the Net Gen is bringing to society. Tapscott debunks the majority of the criticisms against Net Geners using his own research and examples. Most of his examples are specific Net Generation success stories.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Korean Blogger Acquitted

Beyond the types of divides we have generally encountered in this class, a given nation's or political state's policy environment governing use of the Internet can also constitute an additional locus of digital divides. In South Korea, the government recently levied a case against a 31-year old unemployed self-taught financial blogger, whom they accused of spreading malicious rumors about the impending global economic collapse. In this hyper-capitalist society in which credentials and education are often considered prerequisites to being taken seriously, the anonymous blogger caused a major stir and created a large following by questioning the state's economic policies and moves to protect the state currency. For these activities, Park Dae-sung was arrested - and from the looks of it, the arrest had much more to do with his criticisms of the government than it did with illegal activity. Read a summary of the case and Park's acquittal at the Washington Post.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Digital Disability summary

Digital Disability: The Social Construction of Disability in New Media, by Gerard Goggin and Christopher Newell, dances around the terminology of the "digital divide." They offer a nuanced, interdisciplinary introduction to the processes by which new media technology produce inequalities on the basis of disability. Yet, the digital divide, understood as social, cultural and economic gaps between technology users and non-users, obviously applies to the situation encountered by people with disabilities.

The authors invoke disability studies theory, relying primarily on the social model of disability, which asserts that while individuals may have impairments, those bodily differences only become disabilities in the context of a society unprepared for their needs.

Chapter three goes into the history of disability in relation to telecommunications, the authors' usual area of expertise. They first provide histories of telephony in the UK, US and Australia. As telecommunications became privatized and deregulated, and as cell phones rose in popularity, concerns of accessibility were brought by disability organizations. Still, no matter how often accommodations for disability had to be made after the fact, disability remained an afterthought. Similar exclusion, explored in chapter four, has characterized the development of "internet superhighways" and standards of network development. This leads Goggin and Newell to warn that disability could become a worldwide site of exclusion as the world's cultures and economies grow even more connected (68).

In chapters four and five, Goggin and Newell explore the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics to describe the cultural representations and construction of disability in visual digital media, such as television and the web. They conclude that the poverty of representations of people with disabilities enables the ongoing ignorance of the needs, experiences and contributions of people with disabilities in society.

Chapter six addresses internet theory and cultural studies, interrogating ideas of the "cyborg" and prosthetic connections between human and machine. While these metaphors abound, the reality of life with a disability is elided (112). Goggin and Newell call for disability to be explored and integrated as a form of analysis similar to race or gender in cultural studies work, allowing for more nuanced critiques of new media and access. This nuance is brought to bear in chapter seven, which addresses the forms of cultural production that people with disabilities have gained access to through digital media. The ability to connect with others, form communities, and create their own self-representations may challenge the dominant representations and attitudes toward disability (135).

In concluding, Goggin and Newell suggest that the full inclusion of the perspectives of people with disabilities in governments, industry, and civil society is necessary to moving away from the predictable disabling effects of new media.

The most underdeveloped element of this book was the economics of accessible technology. An entire industry of adaptive technologies for people with disabilities has developed, and corporations regularly invoke expense as a reason not to develop accessible technology. Further exploration of these industrial factors would have been interesting, and connected Goggin and Newell to the problems of poverty and lack of educational opportunity among people with disabilities.

Virtual Inequality summary

Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide by Karen Mossberger, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Mary Stansbury redefines the digital divide as being a multi-layered and complex problem: "We propose a broader definition of the problem as consisting of multiple divides: an access divide, a skills divide, an economic opportunity divide, and a democratic divide" (2). The authors acknowledge that there are persistent gaps of access based on race, ethnicity, education, and income: "The data reveal that a 'digital divide' in terms of information technology access is an undeniable reality. Even as more Americans purchase computers and flock online, most of the disparities that emerged during the latter half of the 1990s remain" (35).

When analyzing the skills divide, the authors focus upon two distinct concepts: technological competencies (e.g. using a mouse, typing, and giving instructions to the computer to sort records) and information literacy, which is "the ability to recognize when information can solve a problem or fill a need and to effectively employ information resources" (38). Lurking behind both of these concepts is basic literacy, which the authors also address.

The analysis of the economic opportunity divide is broken into two parts: first, the authors trace the evolution of the economy over the past two decades; second, they discuss their respondents' attitudes and experiences related to the economic opportunity divide. The authors also highlight the interconnectedness of each divide: "The beliefs expressed by survey respondents demonstrate that the problem lies not with limited awareness of technology's benefits, but with issues of access and skill" (61).

The chapter on the democratic divide contains the least developed analysis, because not many studies have been done about it. Nevertheless, the authors pose interesting questions about issues (e.g. online voting) that could develop into potentially large problems in the near future. If government activities and information are moving increasingly online, then the ability to access, use, and debate that information becomes a greater necessity for the existence of a healthy democracy.

The authors synthesize their data and their thoughts into three final recommendations: pay greater attention to skills development in public access sites, experiment with an educational technology subsidy (i.e. a voucher), and increase public investment in lifelong learning.