Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Divided We Stand

Frank Dance's piece on the digital divide discusses the continued problem of a growing digital divide and addresses a larger and perhaps more important issue that he identifies as the "Social Divide". Dance re-introduces the ever present problem of growing digital divide, separating the internet have's and the have-nots more and more. This phenomenon is affected by income, geographic standing, age, race and education. The growing fear is that in ongoing technological revolution those who are on the outside will lag further behind and be subject to the unfair politics of those privy to this world. Dance brings up the nation's awareness of this problem and their intentions to alleviate the divide through either the free market or government intervention. He suggests that these methods coupled with the economic urgency behind closing the divide and using it to benefit our economy and workforce will assure that a solution will be pursued actively. The real problem Dance introduces is the void of communication those on the bottom end of the divide will incur and further alienation they will succumb to as a result.
Dance remarks that the problem of the social divide is not only directed by the ability to possess technology but also from the desire to possess and use it. Citing the delay of literacy's acceptance historically into societies, Dance claims that there are those who are often unwilling to integrate themselves into new forms of media and technology. For people to accept technology they see its importance to human interaction and growth. Primarily as Dance adds, through the functions of linking humans to one another, the development of higher mental processes, and the regulation of human behavior. Dance reinforces these points with the benefits that voting online provides as well as the camaraderie that e-mail develops and fosters. These are very strong points that Dance makes and he admits the execution of the social divide will not be a smooth transition but I believe several factors will inhibit the proper use of the Internet as a tool to help human growth.
The first is the tendency for humans to relegate their media to forms of consumption, primarily for entertainment. Television, which ideologically should create the viewer an array of benefits, often remains a tube of mindless recreation and leisure, leading to more than anything the impediment of higher mental processes. Not denying the Internet's usefulness, it can be said that the medium is not reaching its full potential for efficiency, or specifically enough even Dance's desires for it. The second reason, which is closely tied to this is the tendency for big business to alter the more social but possibly less profitable elements of the Internet. Undoubtedly, social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace have expanded the notion of human interaction that Dance discusses it can foster to close the social divide. But these sites have been manipulated by large corporations into increasingly larger marketing mediums. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, simply something that affects the potential of these sites. Human interaction is limited or determined by the companies who own them and how we speak to one another is judged on the merit of how profitable it can be. I believe Dance's intentions are good and offer a step in the right direction of how technology can influence the betterment of society. However, we must look at our tendency to pursue the almighty dollar and address it. To close the social divide the Internet must not necessarily look at it as the business of human communication but rather as human communication.

1 comment:

Lance Strate said...

Interesting thoughts. I do think that both Dance and Giese note the social dimension of the internet tends to be overlooked, but is of great significance. Only now, with all the buzz being about social networking and social media, is that dimension getting some much-needed attention.

Of course, the problem is that there is no free lunch. Early on, the internet was supported by the government, and there was some tension as to the need to serve the government's interests. Some aspects of computer networks were supported by hobbyists, but you had to be willing to pay to play. And we still pay for internet access most of the time, unless you use a library or university system, but there is a movement to provide free wireless internet in many localities. And then there's the commercial advertising model, where services like MySpace is offered to us free of charge, just as TV programs are used to lure audiences and sell them to advertisers.