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Defining the Digital Divide. Steve Woolgar ESRC Virtual Society? Programme Brunel University www.virtualsociety.org.uk Citizens Online, BAFTA, London, 23 May 2000. Defining the Digital Divide. Whose Divide? The Virtual Society? programme Positive Scepticism Preliminary Results

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Defining the digital divide l.jpg

Defining the Digital Divide

Steve Woolgar

ESRC Virtual Society? Programme

Brunel University

www.virtualsociety.org.uk

Citizens Online, BAFTA, London, 23 May 2000


Defining the digital divide2 l.jpg
Defining the Digital Divide

  • Whose Divide?

  • The Virtual Society? programme

  • Positive Scepticism

  • Preliminary Results

  • Conclusions


Defining the digital divide3 l.jpg
Defining the Digital Divide

  • Whose Divide?

  • The Virtual Society? programme

  • Positive Scepticism

  • Preliminary Results

  • Conclusions


Whose divide l.jpg
Whose Divide?

  • Key assumptions about the “digital divide”

    • access to digital telecommunications is advantageous and desireable

    • have-nots want access

  • Questions

    • who says it is advantageous/desireable?

    • who says the have-nots want to be haves?

    • critical assumptions about what the technology can do


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Defining the Digital Divide

  • Whose Divide?

  • The Virtual Society? programme

  • Positive Scepticism

  • Preliminary Results

  • Conclusions


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Virtual Society? - the problem

  • Massive growth of new electronic technologies, but social context of use poorly understood

  • Fundamental shifts in how people behave, organise themselves and interact as a result of new technologies?

  • Changes in nature/experience of interpersonal relations, communications, social control, participation, cohesion?

  • Crucial bearing on commercial and business success, quality of life, future of society


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Virtual Society? - the Programme

  • 1997-2000: 22 projects in 25 British universities

  • 67 academic researchers

  • counter-intuitive initial results: “interesting if true”

  • PROFILE ‘99 interim report

  • Delivering the Virtual Promise? QEII Centre 19th June 2000


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Defining the Digital Divide

  • Whose Divide?

  • The Virtual Society? programme

  • Positive Scepticism

  • Preliminary Results

  • Conclusions


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The ambivalence of technology

  • cyberbole versus hyper-pessimism

  • technology good/bad

  • technology love/hate

  • technology works/doesn’t work

  • ambivalence as an index of multiple audiences

  • same technology, different effects

  • same effects, different technology...


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Does it not mean the breakdown of artificial national barriers and the welding of humanity into one composite whole? Does it not mean that each is given a chance to comprehend the significance of national and international affairs, and that all the evils of jealousy and hatred being thus displayed before the world will no longer fester, but be cleansed by the antiseptic of common understanding and common sense?


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Does it not mean the breakdown of artificial national barriers and the welding of humanity into one composite whole? Does it not mean that each is given a chance to comprehend the significance of national and international affairs, and that all the evils of jealousy and hatred being thus displayed before the world will no longer fester, but be cleansed by the antiseptic of common understanding and common sense?

Radio (Lewis, 1924: 144)


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  • When we entered Cambridge [Mass. USA] we found an apathetic, dispirited community, afraid to discuss its problems. In the past few weeks we have watched a ferment grow in this town. We have watched people as they began to talk about their problems in the open - for the first time. This talk need not, and must not, end with the


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  • When we entered Cambridge [Mass. USA] we found an apathetic, dispirited community, afraid to discuss its problems. In the past few weeks we have watched a ferment grow in this town. We have watched people as they began to talk about their problems in the open - for the first time. This talk need not, and must not, end with the television programme

  • Community television (Siepmann, 1952)


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  • ………………….. will be subversive to any group, bureaucracy or individual which feels threatened by a coalescing of grassroots consciousness. Because not only does decentralised …………………. serve as an early warning system, it puts people in touch with each other about common grievances.


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  • Community video bureaucracy or individual which feels threatened by a coalescing of grassroots consciousness. Because not only does decentralised will be subversive to any group, bureaucracy or individual which feels threatened by a coalescing of grassroots consciousness. Because not only does decentralised community video serve as an early warning system, it puts people in touch with each other about common grievances.

  • Community video (Shamburg, 1971)


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  • Over the course of a few years a new communications technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.


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  • Over the course of a few years a new communications technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

  • The telegraph, mid 1840s (Standage, 1998)


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interactive technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

cyber

tele

e(lectronic)

remote

distant

home

virtual

digital

learning

working

mail

shopping

commuting

banking

medicine/healthcare

sex

Prefixes and epithets - Iepithet activity


Prefixes and epithets ii epithet institution l.jpg

interactive technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

cyber

tele

e(lectronic)

remote

distant

home

virtual

digital

education

community

society

organisation

university

reality

media

divide

Prefixes and epithets - IIepithet institution


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Positive scepticism technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

  • Who says what the technology can do, when and why?

  • Epithets claim “something new/different” about X

  • Epithets as synoptic, predominantly top down usage, by contrast with localised interpretations

  • Who is using these epithets, how, when and why?

  • Virtual society, digital divide as contested concepts


Defining the digital divide21 l.jpg
Defining the Digital Divide technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

  • Whose Divide?

  • The Virtual Society? programme

  • Positive Scepticism

  • Preliminary Results

  • Conclusions


1 public participation in decision making carver l.jpg
1: Public participation in decision-making (Carver) technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

  • Potential advantages

    • information can travel both ways

    • anonymity in participation is less inhibiting

    • increased speed of reporting and decision

  • Drawbacks

    • lack of training and expertise

    • public apathy/antipathy

    • copyright and confidentiality


2 patterns of access and use of internet wyatt l.jpg
2: Patterns of Access and Use of Internet (Wyatt) technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

  • Growth conceals marked shifts in nature and consistency of usage

  • Evidence that there is a strong drop off in usage

  • People stop using Internet because

    • loss of institutional access

    • become bored

    • too difficult to use

    • too expensive

  • Connection does not make value self evident


3 experience of internet use lea et al l.jpg
3: Experience of Internet Use (Lea et al) technology annihilated distance and shrank the world faster and further than ever before. A world wide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice and gave rise to new forms of crime. Romances blossomed. Secret codes were devised by some and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the sceptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium and attitudes to everything from news gathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought.

  • Does Internet usage engender isolation and loneliness?

  • US evidence (CMU) that Internet can cause depression, loneliness, sense of isolation, anomie

  • Lea et al show visual anonymity enhances identification with group, and reinforces existing social boundaries


4 how much public access is there to the internet liff et al i l.jpg
4: How much public access is there to the Internet? (Liff et al) - I

  • Many fewer active gateways than first thought

  • Attracts a much broader cross section than in overall population of Internet users

  • Initial free/low cost use is counterproductive to business growth

  • Access points augment rather than replace home ownership


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4: How much public access is there to the Internet? (Liff et al) - II

  • Access is a social rather than technical issue

  • Social space facilitates/constrains use by different groups

  • Births and deaths of access points: higher turnover for kiosk than for those with social dimension?

  • The policy gap: infrastructure of telecommunications cost and access; but little support for projects on the ground


5 virtual community care burrows et al l.jpg
5: Virtual community care? (Burrows et al) al) - II

  • Huge growth and scope of wired welfare globally

  • Internet as knowledge base for middle class welfare

  • Self organising structure of cyberspace

  • Problems of status of knowledge obtained on the Internet


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Five Rules of Virtuality al) - II

  • Current rate of straightforward rapid expansion may not continue.

  • New technologies tend to supplement rather than substitute for existing practices and forms of organisation

  • The more virtual the more real!

  • Fears and risks associated with new technologies are unevenly socially distributed

  • Impact of new technologies depends crucially on their local social context


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Defining the Digital Divide al) - II

  • Whose Divide?

  • The Virtual Society? programme

  • Positive Scepticism

  • Preliminary Results

  • Conclusions


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Conclusions al) - II

  • Resist any single definition of the Digital Divide!

  • Need for positive (analytic) scepticism: whose divide?

  • Promises of universal access are unrealistic (cf telephones)

  • Access does not guarantee use

  • Use does not require access (cf Trinidad)

  • Mere technical access may be counter productive

  • Meaningful use requires building upon existing social arrangements


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Defining the Digital Divide al) - II

Steve Woolgar

ESRC Virtual Society? Programme

Brunel University

www.virtualsociety.org.uk

Citizens Online, BAFTA, London, 23 May 2000


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