Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the commercial aspect of technology and the way it is regulated contributes to the digital divide in the world and especially in the US. We live in such a consumerist society that those with the ability and desire to adapt new goods and technology have a huge advantage. The way technology is introduced there is always going to be a divide if it can't be distributed equally.