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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Broadband as a Digital Divide Solution

Since I won't be able to be in class this week to present these materials, I'll do it electronically! I've put together some recent news on the possibilities of broadband as a solution to online inequalities.

I find the contrast between the US plan to put $7.2 billion of stimulus money towards this project, and the Korean experience of focusing on the social elements of the digital divide most interesting. Which comes first, the infrastructure, or the education? Also, it raises questions about whether the goal is really access for all, or improved access for some, or merely job creation.

But, the Australian example is probably more directly comparable, as the government is proposing a detailed plan by which it will create the high-speed infrastructure and turn it over to private interests within 15 years.

Finally, if anyone has strong feelings about the US broadband plan, you have just under 60 days to file a public comment with the FCC!

Monday, April 13, 2009

page turning machine!

my original reaction to this was that it was pretty weird and ultimately a redundant little japanese technological oddity in these increasingly digital times, but as joel johnson over at boing boing points out, it raises a few issues that the kindle is direly lacking with regards to catering to people with physical disabilities.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Warschauer and Microsoft Bob (Arf Arf)

While reading the "Conclusion: The social embeddedness of technology" article this morning, I found myself disagreeing with one of the arguments that Warschauer makes about personal computing and biases. He states:
"Another bias of personal computing is the desktop interface, which is based on an office metaphor (e.g. files and folders) rather than on other possible metaphors (a kitchen, a tool shed, a farm), thus being more accessible to people with certain kinds of prior experiences..." (203)

One software flop from over 15 years ago seems to prove this argument wrong: Microsoft Bob. In 1995, Microsoft decided to take a different approach to the interface of desktop computers and create an interface that resembled what seems to be a house (upper-middle class from the screenshots). BOB is much more graphical than the Windows or OS X. Instead of files and folders, your information is sorted into different "rooms" which you, as the user, give different attributes. To select a program, you pull it off of a shelf in order to invoke its usage. Also, BOB includes its own word processing, spreadsheet (limited in features), and email applications. All of BOBs native applications are essentially dumbed down for users who do not have the ample skills to use standardized software such as Word, Excel, or Outlook. The issue, however, is that the applications were too simple in their functionality. The word processing software, known as "Letter Writer", allows users to change fonts, alignment, and copy/paste. However, it seems as if the application doesn't have any other "simple" features, such as bullets or numbering.

Microsoft BOB sold poorly in the market and eventually was discontinued before Windows 98. Today, the program tops numerous "Worst Products" lists, including CNET's "Worst Products in a decade" and PC World's "Top 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time".

Do you think this is evidence that
Warschauer was wrong in this portion of his argument? Or was this just a simple error on Microsoft's part?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Example of our societal dependence on online access?

Interesting article out of the West Coast today about some fiber-optic vandalism with crippling effects:

Police are hunting for vandals who chopped fiber-optic cables and killed landlines, cell phones and Internet service for tens of thousands of people in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties on Thursday.

The sabotage essentially froze operations in parts of the three counties at hospitals, stores, banks and police and fire departments that rely on 911 calls, computerized medical records, ATMs and credit and debit cards.

The full extent of the havoc might not be known for days, emergency officials said as they finished repairing the damage late Thursday.

Find the full story from the San Francisco Chronicle. Reactions?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Growing Up Online

PBS/Frontline recently aired an hour-long documentary on the digital generation, highlighting the "greatest generational gap since the advent of rock and roll"....

You can watch it (in segments or in its entirety) and view more resources here:

Open Camp: Madison

there's a cool event coming up in a week and some change that potentially dovetails nicely into the class. it's all day long in grainger hall, and totally free. having helped organize the event, i know that there are a lot of issues that are going to be tackled here, and having the library/digital divide voice there would be a really great contribution to the day.

if anyone is super interested, lemme know and i'm sure we can find a way for you to help out. more info can be found over at the open everything madison wiki.

open camp: an open everything event

"Open Everything is a global conversation about the art, science and spirit of 'open'. It gathers people using openness to create and improve software, education, media, philanthropy, architecture, neighbourhoods, workplaces and the society we live in: everything. It's about thinking, doing and being open.

OpenCamp combines 'Open Everything' with the unconference style of BarCamp. OpenCamp will be the first event of it's kind in the world and will be part of a growing global movement with NYC holding their event the same day. Madison is still the only place in the US to have had an Open Everything event and we are excited to have NYC join us in the Red, White and Blue.

In December 2008, Madison joined with Hong Kong and Berlin to celebrate and discuss openness in the world. With OpenCamp, we will be doing things differently. We'll be opening the doors to more people and participating in an unconference style event.

If you aren't familiar with unconferences, imagine Wikipedia in physical space. There will be four presentations going on at once and if the one you are at no longer interests you, use the 'two feet' rule to go to another presentation. Also, don't feel the need to always be at a 'presentation'. Some times water cooler/coffee discussions are more worthwhile than a formal presentation. We encourage you to make the event yours and learn and participate in ways in which you see fit. There is one rule though.

You must participate, there are no audience members at OpenCamp, only participants."

What *do* we think of the Internet?

The discussion in the Selwyn article of the developed-world assumption that "the Internet is always good" reminded me of a phenomenon that indicates that this is not always the case -- for instance, the Internet Addiction Recovery Center, founded in 1995. (And oh, the fad's not over yet.)

Thing is, Internet addiction is just bad science. There is an actual medical definition of addiction, but that definition excludes the possibility of it being applied to the Internet (or video games. Or TV.)

But obviously there's a social undercurrent here that's running against the "Internet yay" meme that Selwyn identifies (and that is, indeed, the primary narrative running through developed countries' attitudes toward technology). I don't think it's just a technophobic minority, either; there's a range of negative stereotypes associated with "computer nerds" and people who dedicate a large portion of their social interaction energy to online activities. The online acronym is IRL, "in real life," implying that the Internet isn't really "real" (despite the fact that it's made up of information and conversations being exchanged by real people). While it's true that digital divide policy is based on the idea that the Internet is a universal good, that's not really all that's going on in a wider context.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Privacy commissioner puts spotlight on internet monitoring technology

Well, once again, the US is being shown that it isn't as concerned with basic freedoms and civil rights as with, um, 'the war on terror':

In a stunning defense of President George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, President Barack Obama has broadened the government's legal argument for immunizing his Administration and government agencies from lawsuits surrounding the National Security Agency's eavesdropping efforts. ....more

Canadians, on the other hand, are trying to promote an understanding of this landscape, so that an intelligent discourse can be pursued:

Canada's privacy commissioner has opened an online discussion on deep packet inspection, a technology that allows internet service providers and other organizations to intercept and examine packets of information as they are being sent over the internet.

"We realized about a year ago that technologies involving network management were increasingly affecting how personal information of Canadians was being handled," said Colin McKay, director of research, education and outreach for the commissioner's office. ....more

If you aren't familiar with the technology of deep packet inspection, then you should probably be reading these reports, which also include issues of net neutrality and divides:

The real threat of censorship comes not from government guarantees of content neutrality, but from carriers discriminating on the basis of content, source, and destination—probably in favor of the powerful and against the weak. -Harry Abelson

It's not new news, for those of us with our ears to the digital wires, but it reiterates the fact that the internet is not necessarily neutral ground. It's infrastructure is largely privately owned and profit oriented, and because it grew up out of a Department of Defense project, the US has more control over the structure of the internet than any other single nation, via it's control over critical nodes in the infrastructure and via it's involvement in the naming organization that translates URLs into machine addressable locations.

That's all the cold-medicine addled brain has to offer up tonight.

Time Warner Tries Variable Broadband Pricing

Many of you have probably heard about this, but I couldn't stop thinking about it while reading the Compaine and Selwyn articles this week. Prices don't inevitably go down, and questions about access to information are always complicated by issues of the type, size and quantity of information that can be accessed.

Time Warner is unleashing a four-tier pricing plan for broadband internet services, with caps on the amount of material that can be up/downloaded each month. If you go over your capped limit, you're charged $1/G. So far, it's only being announced for New York, North Carolina, and Texas (interestingly, places where there's no competition from Verizon and its unlimited plans).

The backlash has already been huge, from consumers:
and from local politicians:
The capping strategy is likely to most target people who use a lot of streaming media, making it seem like a potentially "fair" method of charging for use, but there have also been concerns about deaf communities, who are especially heavy users of videoconferencing, being priced out.

Lastly, these changes are an interesting counterpoint to the plans for national broadband that Ashley posted below! Will the FCC's plan include pricing tiers, too?

Democracy Now! Covers the Digital Divide

Bridging the Rural Digital Divide: FCC Starts Work on National Broadband Strategy

Cables The Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC, begins work today on a yearlong national broadband strategy to bring high-speed broadband internet into every American home. Under the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus plan, the FCC is responsible for developing a strategy to improve broadband coverage and present it to Congress in February of 2010. We speak with Wally Bowen, executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville.

MJS: Doyle plan for libraries criticized Primary funding would come from fee collected to improve Internet access

Doyle plan for libraries criticized
Primary funding would come from fee collected to improve Internet access

By Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Apr. 7, 2009

A proposal in Gov. Jim Doyle's 2009-'11 budget calling for use of $12.6 million from the Universal Service Fund for the state's primary contribution to public libraries is stirring criticism from some state lawmakers.

Sen. Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) said he objected to using the fund in that way, which he said was never intended. The fund, supported by a fee on land-line telephone bills, was created under a 1993 law that deregulated the telecommunications industry. It was supposed to ensure that Wisconsin residents have equal access to advanced communications such as the Internet.

That's been an issue in the state, especially in rural areas lacking high-speed Internet access.

The fund's use has been expanded to subsidize Internet access in schools, libraries, and organizations such as the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee. Dozens of organizations, including senior citizen centers and literacy councils, have benefited from the Universal Service Fund.

Using funds from the $32 million pot of money for public libraries dilutes its purpose, according to Ellis, who said the provision amounts to a 40% increase in a fee that was originally meant to improve telecom and Internet access.

"This is a hidden tax amounting to $12.6 million," he said. "How does having a telephone equate to supporting public libraries?

Read more (

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Wired has a good article on how the stress of poverty can affect the brain.

"At the same time, scientists have studied the cognitive abilities of poor children, and the neurobiological effects of stress on laboratory animals. They've found that, on average, socioeconomic status predicts a battery of key mental abilities, with deficits showing up in kindergarten and continuing through middle school. Scientists also found that hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains of animals."

Friday, April 03, 2009

More on Transportation Divides

In a class presentation, I attempted to posit school busing as a technology application attempting to address racial and socioeconomic inequities in schools.

This article discusses another way in which transportation technology becomes a locus of these tensions. An Oakland class action suit to address perceived unfair standards in mass transit fees has been tossed out of court.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ben Compaine Blogs...

...on an LIS 202 class response posting. Might we lure him over here for next week's reading?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Little Smart

After reading "Wireless Communication and Global Development: New Issues, New Strategies", I decided to see what's going on now with some of the services being implemented earlier this decade.

This is a blog entry on the apparently coming demise of Little Smart:

Shutting Down Little Smart

In her interesting new book, From Iron Fist to Invisible Hand: the Uneven Path of Telecommunications Reform in China, Irene S. Wu describes competition among bureaucracies, consumer demand, and technological innovations as drivers of telecommunications reform in China. An interesting case study is Little Smart, a low-cost, limited-mobility wireless service that rapidly gained popularity, but which will be shut down by 2011 in favor of 3G services.

Little Smart provided a vehicle for China Telecom to offer wireless service. Little Smart was initially approved to extend China Telecom's wireline telephone service to rural areas. However, Little Smart was first offered commercially in December, 1998, in Zhaoqing, a small city in Guangdong Province. In 1999, Little Smart service was extended to two provincial capitals and other small cities. By September, 2001, Little Smart was being offered in 300 cities and had about 5 million subscribers. By early 2003, Little Smart was available in Beijing and other large Chinese cities. The number of Little Smart subscribers reached 91 million in 2006.[1]

Efforts of mobile-service competitors and the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) to constrain Little Smart subscriber growth failed. Mobile-service competitors China Mobile and Unicom complained vociferously to state bodies that Little Smart was not authorized to provide the service it was providing. MII repeatedly forbade Little Smart to expand service, but it did anyway. MII subsequently ratified Little Smart expansions. Little Smart succeeded in gaining state approval by first succeeding in gaining a large number of customers.

Click for more.


having spent a fair amount of time with the OLPC laptop/netbook (i've started calling him Gnort), i was gonna post up on the blog about this lil' guy and my personal experiences with it, even though we're all gonna get into some of the nitty gritty of all that tomorrow.

figuring out the opening of the actual unit itself might seem a bit difficult to most people, but i was lucky enough to have the SLIS attendant open it up in front of me so as to avoid any embarrassing moments in front of my peers.

i've never been really too sure about the whole "unboxing" thing that is spread all over youtube, but please help yourself to a video of someone going through the (very audible and sniffly) "how do i get it out of here? what does this do? etc."

so, now that we've opened up the box, gotten a tissue or three, and played around with the thing for a while, we can hop, skip, and click our way over to david pogue's fairly comprehensive video review from the ny times:

instead of programs, the XO has activities, and is designed for collaboration. instead of only seeing wireless networks to connect to, you're also able to see the other computers in the area, which are shown as being part of a "mesh network." other XO computers show up as stick figures are can be invited to collaborate in various activities. since SLIS only has one of the XOs, we can't test this aspect of the hardware, but you can see the potential for this to be truly useful in any number of educational settings.

this next video is a pretty thorough overview of an older interface which is not running on the machnie that SLIS circulates:

the future of this is going to be an interesting one. last summer, OLPC ruffled a lot of feathers when it began shipping laptops with windows installed on them as opposed to sugar, the python based OS that we've seen in all the videos so far. the reasons for this are many, and include the fact that some of the countries the laptops are being shipped to aren't so keen on open source software, and legally require something as widely supported and documented as windows.

there's a whole hornets nest of interesting stuff going on in here, and certainly one blog post isn't gonna cut it when we're talking about the digital divide, open source software, geopolitical tech issues, the role that this technology should fulfill, on and on and on...

i'll leave you with what i think is a positive note, though i have no means of actually understanding the dept (or lack of depth) given language barriers. here's what i presume is a Paraguayan family that has been recording themselves with the laptops 30 frames per second camera, and posting the clips to youtube. if anyone out there knows what they're saying, and what they're saying is personal or whatever, lemme know and i'll take down the link, but i'm assuming that given the context, and since it's on youtube, it's fair game for our class to check out.