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Forget the digital divide

June 2, 2012

Tha Digital Divide

The concept of The Digital Divide – the haves and the have nots in the digital era – has been firmly established and taken for granted for at least a decade.

Therefore it was very refreshing to read Christopher Mims’ post in Technology Review, entitled “There’s no Digital Divide”.

It’s basically an interview with Jessie Daniels, Associate Professor of urban public health at Hunter College and CUNY, who recently tweeted with resignation:

Why @nytimes must there be a “new digital divide” ? Why this tired, dis-empowering rhetoric in which the poor are always “doing it wrong” ?

The tweet referred to a piece in NYTimes with a new interpretation of the digital divide – that the have nots now have the internet but are using it in a less clever way, mostly wasting their time.

In Christopher Mims’ post, Jessie Daniels argues that the Digital Divide is based on how middle- and upperclass whites are using the internet.

In reality it turns out that the typical have nots – poor and with low education – use the internet as much as typical middleclass whites do, and in a very constructive way.

And I would argue that even if they use it in another way it might still be productive or effective or creative or what ever you want. The basic power with the internet is that it’s so flexible that it allows anyone to find new ways of using it that haven’t been found before, especially new ways adapted to local conditions.

Christopher Mims then asks Jessie Daniels about her opinion on a federal program for spending $200 million on putting digital educators in schools.

Daniels point is that users with less experience or education still have difficulties with some aspects of digesting information, for example how to identify hidden interests behind websites that seem to be one thing but actually are something else, such as www.martinlutherking.org. In that aspect the federal program could be useful, if implemeted in the right way.

Another perspective on the Digital Divide is the fact that inventions travel faster over the world. The classic example is to compare how long it took for technology as the television, the mobile phone and the internet to reach a major part of the world’s population.

As this amount of time gradually gets shorter, in an accelerating development, the space for a potential divide between haves and have nots regarding any new technology gets smaller and smaller, having less and less importance.

What is important to understand though is that differences in culture and local conditions make people use new technologies in different ways all over the world, making these technolgies develop in a richer way than ever before.

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