Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Information technologies and social equity...

Writing in 1990, Doctor provides a socioeconomic critique of the effects of information technologies on the wider society. He specifically investigates the distribution of microcomputers as an indicator of social inequality in the Age of Information and looks to public policy as a way to ensure a reduction in the growing gap between the information rich and information poor.

In his research, Doctor found two opposing themes represented in the literature, (1) information technologies, as part of larger oligopolistic system, create uneven power distributions that result in social inequities or (2) information technologies, as part of a free market, enhance social equity by decentralizing power and control through the distribution of information. For Doctor, the shift to a knowledge economy directly links information and profitability and, therefore “increase[s] contention for control of information and knowledge resources” (218).

Looking at a range of studies, including the CPS study we reviewed last week, Doctor showed that the distribution of microcomputers is correlated with various socioeconomic factors, such as income, education, race, and location. Although microcomputer ownership is a variable contributing to the digital divide, Doctor suggests that information literacy is an equally important variable when addressing the information gap.

To affect any significant reduction in the information gap, Doctor believes a democratic society’s power lies in its ability to shape public policy. He proposes a top-down approach modeled after other federal projects in his design of the National and Regional Institutes for Information Democracy. These institutes would act as intermediary networks between federal and regional government, Experimental Mass Information Utilities, and local libraries and schools. The institutes would be responsible for core hardware and software needs, as well as funding, project planning, research and consultation with the local level. For Doctor, this solution would be able to reach the most disadvantaged population through a dual system of collaboration and oversight.


  1. I think it's interesting the way the concept of 'the informed citizenry' made its way into the discussions in these articles as well.

  2. I read this article and kept wondering 'did anything like the Institutes for Information Democracy ever come into being?' My sense is that the closest we came was the Community Information Centers, which I don't think were the same as what Doctor was calling for, and perhaps some of the work of public libraries and academic library schools.

    It was interesting that both Doctor and Nelson used the phrase "knowledge is power." I loved that Doctor cited the source of the phrase (Francis Bacon, note on p. 218). Sometimes it seems that in our current environment, at least for those of us on the online side of The Divide, that knowledge can mean being overwhelmed by all the facts and opinions available online. Does knowledge still mean power, or can it mean information overload and indecision and inaction?