Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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.

1 comment:

  1. I think the idea of narrowing digital divides as an indication of success in a broader egalitarian project is really useful. Obviously, it won't be an immediate correlation (someone will still need to buy computers), but it does seem that rising equality in other realms would encourage moving forward in technology.