Digital entitlement

June 19, 2012

A blog piece from the MIT Technology Review dated 31 May 2012 entitled ‘There is No Digital Divide’ may generate some thinking. Mims exemplifies a lack of iPad or broadband being a block on social mobility as current examples of being on the wrong side of the current ‘digital divide’. He picks up on a piece in the New York Times by Gawker – “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era” purporting that the lower social orders waste their time on the Internet, along with a response by Jessie Daniels that claimed he’d missed the point.

Daniels argues that the term ‘digital divide’ hasn’t what the social sciences describe as suitable current ‘frame’ or set of references or definition. Once upon a time it meant no desktop computer but these days we have mobile phones capable of much more. We’re using ‘affluent white men’ as a standard, whilst other communities, which may be seen as poor or different in racial or sexuality terms employ technology but in a different manner. These communities still need ‘digital fluency’ or ‘digital entitlement’ but it shouldn’t necessarily be approached in the same angle as a ‘affluent white man’ would employ the medium.

A key example is that adolescents need assistance in discerning ‘cloaked’ sites from reliable ones, and good information sources from bad ones, and Daniels believes this is quite easy to teach, but is different from the skill set a more affluent grouping might require. She then goes on to promote Howard Rheingold’s new book ‘Net Smart’, and suggests it should be included in training plans for schools.

I suspect there is some truth here but a lack of broadband in some areas is still creating a massive separation when it comes to potential economic development or even people just doing their homework. Framing is necessary, but so is infrastructure.