the tools and the hammer/nail problem in the digital divide

“The way you talk about the [digital divide] changes people’s view of who is responsible for resolving it…. This issue has been around for years, but its meaning is in constant flux and is manipulated by political agendas.”

I’ve switched some of the tools I use for keeping current over the past few months. I’m finding that I use RSS less and less for keeping up on blogs and rely more on Twitter lists and searches to sort of keep my hand in. I also read a lot of print material still [some of my best "things to think about" things are still coming from the pages of Library Journal and Computers in Libraries magazines] and am trying to keep to my book-a-week plan for 2011. Oddly I also get news from seemingly random places like other people’s facebook walls and I made a little image-milkshake over on a site called MLKSHK. You might like it.

I have a standing search for “digital divide” on Twitter that just auto-updates itself onto my desktop via TweetDeck. The thing that is so interesting about this, to me, is how often the term gets used and for how many different things. This morning there are discussions about the digital divide and gender, how the EU is trying to narrow the digital divide (referring to access to broadband) and a report about how switching to online social services in the UK would adversely affect people who are digitally divided already, mostly talking about seniors.

Which leads me to the paper I read recently which was really pretty intersting and on topic: Who’s Responsible for the Digital Divide? Public Perceptions and Policy Implications (pdf) It’s not long, you can read it, but the upshot is that depending how we define the digital divide, we will develop different strategies to “solve” the problem. This is not just hypothesized in the paper but addressed scientifically. So if the problem is lack of compturs, we throw computers at the problem. If the problem is broadband, we work on network infrastructure. If the problem is education we design sites like DigitalLiteracy.gov and then wonder why a website isn’t teaching people how to use computers. Tricky stuff, endlessly fascinating, thorny problem.

2 Responses to “the tools and the hammer/nail problem in the digital divide”

  1. rhonda Says:

    Hi Jessamyn – I’ve been thinking even more about the digital divide lately. I started a new position at Vermont Law School. As with most libraries they are feeling the budget squeeze and there is enormous pressure for them to use electronic resources exclusively wherever possible. So there goes access to even more stuff for folks who can’t get or can’t afford high speed internet. And it affects others in our area if they want to rent to law students, which many typically have, they must have high speed internet available at their property or they can’t get students as renters.

  2. J. Dunn Says:

    So if the problem is lack of compturs, we throw computers at the problem. If the problem is broadband, we work on network infrastructure. If the problem is education we design sites like DigitalLiteracy.gov and then wonder why a website isn’t teaching people how to use computers.

    The problem I keep running into in library school is negotiating everyone’s proprietary (and scholarship/research-driven and constrained) definition of the digital divide. I came in just expecting that my general and expansive definition of it was in line with the consensus, and got a fairly rude awakening. I’ve found that some people are just about bare computer access, some are about broadband policy, some are about very basic computer literacy, and precious few are about truly deep and integrative socio-technological literacy. Almost none at all are thinking comprehensively and systemically about the roots and context of the problem(s), and more often than not, the various factions are too busy drawing lines and policing the debate to put the different pieces of the puzzle each of them has together into a more comprehensive picture and then act on it.

    I tend to think it’s all of these things, and a lot more than that. To me the digital divide is an epiphenomenon of longstanding social and economic inequalities and injustices, and can’t really be sustainably addressed outside of a more comprehensive social justice or community/economic development framework. And, well, failing that (and realistically, we usually will be), I think you at least need to address both the access and literacy aspects of things in all of their contextual variance and complexity.

    Getting a broad survey of the CI literature has covered most of those areas and helped flesh out my ideas, but when it comes to trying to find allies and partners for actual projects and practice, I’ve been pretty frustrated so far. I hope it’s better when I get outside the artificial constraints of the academic world, but institutions are still institutions, and I’m definitely pretty wary about being able to work effectively on complicated and systemic problems like this within their constraints. I was hoping that libraries would be the sort of institutional home where I could have a little more latitude on that kind of thing, but I guess that’s something I still have to figure out as I go.