May 9, 2010 Comments Off
This week’s readings dealt with the concept of the digital divide that has emerged as technology has infiltrated the daily lives of many individuals. The study conducted by Witte and Mannon examines the variation in the use of the Internet between individuals of different gender, age, race, education, employment, and income, comparing statistics between 2000 and 2007. The study found that the number of adults online roughly doubled in the seven-year span, from 46% to 71%. Education and income were found to be the most significant factors in the inequality between users and non-users. Only 40% of individuals without a high school degree had ever been online whereas 90% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree were connected. Furthermore, this gap increased over the seven years, indicating that the educational discrepancies are growing. The difference between wealthy and poor classes using the Internet consistently grew by 14 points over the span.
The article by Norris also examines the digital divide, but breaks it down into three components. The global divide refers to the divergence of Internet access between industrialized and developing societies, the social divide explains the gap between rich and poor in terms of Internet use, and the democratic divide relates to the difference in individuals who either do or do not use the Internet to stay connected and take part in public life. The article further examines the effect of the divide on politics, the economy, and individual participation in the community. Also, it discusses the gap between developed and developing countries, raising the question of whether or not poorer countries could ever catch up to wealthier ones in terms of Internet use.
As Norris notes, “America has become all Internet, all the time” (274). But as Witte and Mannon explain, while “the Internet has undoubtedly become an important part of contemporary American life, it is not yet an important part of daily life for roughly half of all American adults” (27). Speaking in domestic terms, there is “a growing divide between the wealthiest and poorest in terms of consistent Internet use” (Witte and Mannon 36). This does not even begin to explore the divide that exists between developed and developing nations, as these poorer places are essentially becoming cut-off from modern society. According to Norris, the Internet age, itself, encourages inequalities on a global scale. There are “postindustrial economies at the core of the network and developing societies at the periphery”, indicating that those with less resources are bound to be left out in the long run.
What I find interesting is that the Internet, while it is the subject of the divide, may also be the best way to help narrow the divide. Despite all of the inequalities it creates, Norris notes “the Internet may foster new types of mobilization by transnational advocacy networks around the world” (276). The Internet is a hugely effective tool for businesses, as it “encourages market globalization [and allows companies] to deal directly with customers…irrespective of distance, the costs of advertising…” (Norris 275). If the issue of the digital divide were advertised online, it seems almost inevitable that most users would eventually see some sort of information on it. According to Witte and Mannon, the advertising has become so popular on the Internet that “even when users are not seeking product information or making an actual purchase, advertising infuses non-commercial sites with a commercial component” (42). Essentially, information advertised online appears everywhere online regardless of whether it is a commercial or non-commercial site.
I believe that the Internet provides the best resources for people in terms of connecting others to rally around a cause. The Internet increases the ease of becoming involved in community affairs for those who already have access. Blogging has become more popular as the number of people blogging between 2004 and 2006 doubled. Since these types of posts are available to anyone online, an individual could post about the digital divide with the hope of informing others about the issues, therefore gaining support for his/her cause. Additionally, information services online are booming. According to the study by Witte and Mannon, almost all of the top reasons why an individual goes online are related to obtaining information. With resources such as email, social networking, and instant messaging, it is easy for individuals to connect to one another and share information despite geographic boundaries.
Mixed media also provide users with the ability to take activism to a new level. Sites such as YouTube allow for people to post videos about anything, which can then be viewed by all others online. While Keen contests this point noting that YouTube is simply a manifestation of the narcissistic nature of our society, I disagree. After all, our dependence on the Internet as a whole is pretty selfish as we fail to consider the consequences for those who cannot keep up with all of the technological changes. Yes, there are videos of people searching for their fifteen minutes of fame. However, there are also plenty of activist videos working towards a cause. Jenkins recognizes the potential of YouTube, noting, “similarly for many nongovernmental advocacy organizations that are trying to engage a general public either with a single video or via a channel, YouTube is likely to be the first place that public will look” (121). The connectedness and conformity of the information society makes it relatively easy to guess where individuals will look for certain types of information, and YouTube is the place to find videos. Additionally, it is so easy to use that all users can become involved in the cause and participate.
And as more and more people are able to participate in a cause or learn more about one via the Internet, they can then share this information with others who might not be connected. The Internet makes it so easy to reach other connected users. Therefore, it seems that in order to spread information about the consequences of the digital divide (since you want to target other users), the Internet is the perfect solution. Witte and Mannon’s study shows that eighteen to forty-four year olds have the highest amount of online use. Coincidentally, they are the types of individuals that would be most effective in sharing information about the cause, whether it be through their schools or workplaces. By raising awareness of the digital divide between poor and rich nations through digital means, individuals may be most successful in mobilizing support to raise money and focus on narrowing this gap.