Deconstructing Digital Divides

Does any aspect of racialized, gendered, or other forms of digital divide pose an obstacle?

Absolutely. Every aspect of society poses diverse obstacles for the development and productive use of a new technology. With any new form of technology, there will always be countless obstacles to be hurdled, or removed, or adapted. With any obstacle though, it takes foresight (or hindsight) to allow overcoming such an obstacle to be an accessible opportunity for all. I like the idea of overcoming a physical obstacle, like a hurdle on a track, as a comparison to the digital divide. In the article “Internet Justice…” Jaeger points out that “laws and regulations have been created…to promote online accessibility for persons with disabilities.” However, there has not been much follow through in the more-than decade since passing most of these laws and regulations, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is not monitored regularly by the majority of government agencies. This is analogous to saying that, should a person be blind, they have the right to access the track and attempt to clear the hurdles. However, no one is regularly making sure that the supports are in place (such as a personal guide, or sound emitters on the hurdles).

“Access” is a broad term, but it does not ensure that users of a new technology are capable of using the technology productively. Warschauer demonstrates this fact further in Models of Access: Devices, Conduits, and Literacy, by stating that “the presence of absence of [a] computing device is only a small part of the broader context that shapes how people can actually use ICT [Information and Communication Technology] in their lives.” Just because hurdles are set up on a track for practice and exercise does not mean that every person on the track will know (or be able to physically see) how to properly jump over a hurdle. Warschauer believes that merely having a device, or having access to a device, is not enough for someone to become capable of using a technology productively; society and culture demand different literacy practices of its citizens, as seen in the different literacy skills practiced in a Pakistani madrassa versus an American university.

So it follows then, that Internet content creators are responsible for providing users with accessible-for-all content. Sunstein presents the many challenges of the abundant content hosted on the Internet. While many are concerned with gaining access to the Internet in the first place (as seen in Parr’s article with Africa’s rising proliferation of mobile phone owners), those with access are choosing to limit their access, personalizing the content they view so succinctly that they are closing themselves off from other perspectives, causing the group polarization phenomenon to occur.

It is my belief that, because of group polarization, that is why we see centralized, over-saturated areas using certain derogatory terms on the internet in Monica Stephen’s “Geography of Hate” map. For instance, we see a high usage of the term “gook” in an unnamed city near Great Bend, Kansas. It can be inferred that Twitter/Facebook users in that area commonly refer to the local Korean population as “gooks,” and because users continue to see and hear others use that term, the usage of the word is reinforced (thus, group polarization). Sunstein suggests, “It is clear that the Internet is serving, for many, as a breeding ground for extremism.” Sunstein, however, does provide recommendations so that the Internet does not simply remain an extremism breeding ground, or, as Jaeger or Warschauer might suggest, a conduit, which is merely an access point of information for some but not for all. One of the most basic, yet easy to implement suggestions is including links to opposing views on sites, so that readers can benefit from a “bigger picture.” He also suggests voluntary self-regulation, subsidy, and public sidewalks. Surely, these are great recommendations, but they do not cover all bases for how to clear this discriminatory hurdle, as no one person can.

In my view, all users of technology and the Internet are citizens who are bound to the responsible and productive use of it. If I create a website today, or publish a blog post, it is my responsibility to make sure it is accessible to all who may venture to view it. Now that I am aware of the laws and regulations in place, and I have seen the importance of inclusion in Lynne Cox’s “Deconstructing Pecha Kucha: A Visually Impaired Artist’s Viewpoint,” it is my duty as a citizen of the Internet age, to make sure my content can reach as many people as possible. All users of the Internet, and of technology today must take a similar standpoint (Facebook already has), or at least see the role they play in using and choosing Internet content. (Note that I am not demanding all accept my extremist view, just that everyone should be willing to see this perspective, as well as others’ perspectives.) We must make sure that government agencies, and indeed all users of the Internet (students included) are aware of laws and regulations that should be enforced. If we are not creating all-accessible content ourselves, we must at least see to it that we are supporting content, which does fulfill, or is actively working toward, accessibility for all to close digital divides.

My final question: if it is not our job as citizens of the Internet age to provide support for our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens to clear today’s technological hurdles, then whose job is it?

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