The Great Divide – Experience #3
// Posted by Nicola on 10/15/2014 (12:37 PM)
Divisions exist in many facets of society, whether it is racial, economic or political. However, I had never truly considered the digital divide to fall into the same category. Nor did it occur to me that the effects of this divide were so far reaching and could potentially inhibit a large portion of the population from engaging with society itself.
Given this extremely significant component of the digital age, I was eager to see what was in stall for the group experience. Assigned to group ‘A’ I was told to simply bring in a charged smartphone. Easy. I am very familiar with my iPhone – I use it to text, call, log on to various social media sites, take photos and so on. I was thus relieved that I would have access to my phone as opposed to members of group ‘B’ who were unable to use theirs whatsoever. However, as the rules of the experience were outlined my initial confidence began to falter. I have never used it to complete an assignment. I, like many other students with the means to afford laptops, solely rely on them to submit any written task (no matter how lengthy). Consequently, I soon discovered the difficulty of completing the set task.
While I was able to research the question of digital copyrighting quite easily on my phone, several unexpected factors hindered the speed at which I could work. For instance, accustomed to typing on a laptop keyboard primarily using a Word Document, I struggled to type quickly or efficiently on the Notes app. As Emily or Joe dictated, I constantly found myself asking them to slow down and repeat sentences. Moreover, while we were able to access journal and academic articles online it was certainly not easy. Reading such dense material on a relatively small screen was quite exhausting, especially given the limited time frame and my familiarity with the larger screen of a laptop. However, perhaps most notable was that several sites took an incredibly long time to load. Here the efficiency of the Wi-Fi was bought to my attention. Although I did have connection, the server was simply not fast enough to complete an assignment within a limited time. If I found the experience difficult enough working in a group of three, I can only imagine the strain and stress of completing assigned tasks by oneself. As Jessica Goodman (2013) notes in her study of Newark students, ‘…many students have found it impossible to perform the same quality of work on a smartphone that they might be able to on a personal computer.’ Thus, despite Vinton G. Cerf’s claims that access to the Internet is not a human right (2012), it is clear that restricted access does pose serious issues. Now, having experienced these limitations first hand, it is clear that having restricted access does prevent individuals from both participating in, and completing a set task.
Interestingly, not one of us went to a book or any other physical material to assist in our research. Although we were literally sitting in a library we nevertheless relied solely on our smartphones, our ‘…portals to the web’ (Goodman, 2013). This choice speaks volumes for how we access information in the digital age. In fact, our group used the University of Richmond’s app to access the Boatwright Library’s catalogue rather than taking advantage of the librarians or the library itself. While it was thus a faster way to complete the task, it did make me wonder whether the quality would be as thorough…
However, what I was most concerned about was whether we would actually be able to get on a computer. Having worked in a library, I am astutely aware of the difficulty of accessing one given that so many other individuals are constantly on them. Again, this is another setback that individuals without easy access to technology must endure. Luckily we managed to grab the last remaining one in the assigned area (therefore avoiding what could have been a highly dramatic scene). With only ten minutes remaining Emily quickly typed up our group response on a word document. We had (miraculously) managed to submit our assignment. Of course, whether or not it was a quality piece of work remains to be seen.
Moreover, the question we were asked to answer as part of the experience proved challenging given the highly divisive nature of the topic itself. After much deliberation (Digital divide audio) we decided to tackle the question by arguing that “rather than perpetuating inequality, digital copyrighting inhibits expression and creative freedom.” While we found relevant cases and recent examples to support our claim, I still am not entirely sure where I stand on this matter. On the one hand, given my interest in films and television (and that I make my own short films), I am completely aware of the difficulty of using any existing material – even the briefest clippings. As someone who is also unable to pay for the rights to use existing material, I agree that these copyright acts seriously limit the freedom of creative expression. Yet, at the same time, if someone has produced a creative piece of work (that they’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating) then the idea that of someone else taking it and using it as they please, without asking for permission, seems utterly wrong. What is the difference between this act and theft? Is it acceptable because it isn’t a physical act of theft as say stealing an artwork is? Perhaps one solution is the Creative Commons (CC) site that has been established to encourage interaction between the creative communities. That is they are “…devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.” The site acts as a mediator for individuals to ask for permission to use an artist’s work as opposed to just taking it.
In terms of documentation, I took a few photos before and after the experience as well as several screenshots on my phone (and of my screen). However, given the frenzied pace at which we were working, I was not able to document as much as I would have liked to. Thankfully, Dr. Rosatelli was also documenting the experience, providing us with access to additional images and video footage. The video footage was particularly useful as it captured all group members actively engaging with the task and thus also helped to jog my memory of what we were thinking during the process itself.
Ultimately, this experience raised some interesting questions and certainly challenged my own experiences with technology. While I have grown accustomed to having easy access to laptops and high speed Wi-Fi, there are innumerable individuals with limited or no access whatsoever. This gap is startling. It is imperative that there are actions taken to reduce it, or we risk living in an increasingly divided society.