Sunday, February 08, 2009

On Fear and Internet Adoption

Last week we talked a bit about fear and cyberspace technologies. In the mid to late 1990's it was not uncommon for studies to report that African Americans' slow adoption of computing and the Internet was related to a fear of Big Brother among other things. Specifically many believed that computers and the Internet were apart of a federal surveillance campaign to collect vital information about their private lives. I think it's important to consider the histories and relationships of various communities within face-to-face communicative contexts as these experiences and perceptions are often transferred into the virtual world.


*Ervin, K. S., & Gilmore, G. (1999). Traveling the superinformation highway : African americans' perceptions and use of cyberspace technology. Journal of Black Studies, 29(3), 398-407.

*Kretchmer, S. B., & Carveth, R. (2001). The color of the net ; african americans, race an cyberspace. Computers & Society, 31(3), 9-14.

*Marriott, M., & Brant, M. (1995). CyberSoul not found. Newsweek.,126,(Jul 31),62-63 .


  1. This issue also came up during the media blitz surrounding Jeremiah Wright. I wonder if there are any recent articles about this to see if it's changing at all.

  2. I thought it was interesting in the first article, that the study found AA females were more distrustful than AA males...I wonder why this is?

  3. Hi, Brenton -

    I think your observation is a very important one. At a conference I was at this week, I sat in on a session on Community Informatics. One thing that came up that I am currently fascinated by is the problematic nature of the so-called "open source" movement, with regard to opening up access to all information, and the often-times blanket assumption that this is the paradigm that ought to be adopted, without much explication behind it.

    One of the scholars commenting on this phenomenon pointed out that, in his particular case, he was working with a community of American Indian people in the southwest. In this case, they were working together to figure out how to wrest access for the tribe to numerous digital artifacts produced in their culture and now residing in museums. In this case, the artifacts were already in the public sphere (open source, as it were), without the tribe's consent. Now the artifacts were being digitized and rendered for display on the Internet, extending the access further. Yet this was done without tribal input; in many cases, these were private artifacts with special meaning to the tribe and not meant for public consumption, viewing, etc. In other words, "open" access was providing nothing more than an extension of hegemonic power structures that took the physical artifacts out of the control of their creators in the first place. Maybe we need to problematize the notion that "access" means the same thing to all people. For this tribe, control and access might mean the ability to limit access to these artifacts, and not just open everything to all at all times.

    It was a really good illustration of the ways in which certain neoliberal constructs that have informed net politics and culture might not be applicable in all cultural contexts. Maybe this is a good thing to keep in mind.

  4. Re: Sarah R.

    That's an excellent example. It's interesting that open source and "the Net" were/are positioned as inherently good with very little critique. The Swlyen article (reader) gets at this a little bit more.