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Digital Divide

// Posted by on 06/06/2015 (12:36 PM)

I think that any organization that operates trading or sales to determine prices, manage risk or identify profitable opportunities would be concerned about the .001 of a cent. This desire for the .001 of a cent has pushed the financial… Read more

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I think that any organization that operates trading or sales to determine prices, manage risk or identify profitable opportunities would be concerned about the .001 of a cent. This desire for the .001 of a cent has pushed the financial trades to the limits of the speed of light. Computers are interacting with each other through algorithms trading among themselves and essentially leaving humans on the sidelines struggling to keep pace. The latency however, is important outside the trading markets and more and more organizations are seeking new ways to cut a few hundredths of a second off the speed it takes to transfer data.

In my opinion as financial securities become progressively complex, in order to be able to generate profits and reduce risk, it would demand that people understand the complex mathematical models that price securities. In addition, it would take a significant amount of engineering to build the infrastructure required to reduce latency and a team of highly skilled engineers designed many of the systems that are used in high frequency trading. These things alone would make trading extremely intimidating to the average individual.

Technology is racing ahead quickly and every day there are new advancements from fully automated cars, artificial intelligence systems that can understand and produce human speech, to robots that can do many of things humans can do. Overall, society has become more and more dependent on technology. While technology has improved our lives in several ways, it hasn’t done much to reduce the cost of health care or education.

Not everyone can work with technology and many relevant tasks require knowledge or advanced skills. Thus, technological advancements are leaving a large group of people behind. Many people are not getting the skills or support needed to participate in our rapidly changing economy or the changing society that is developing around them. Resulting in a greater divide and a need for better access to education.


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Divide and Conquer? Not So Much

// Posted by on 10/15/2014 (10:46 AM)

This past weekend, I headed down to Charleston, SC with a group of friends for fall break. Even though it was a “break” from school, we all seemed to still have homework to do. One of my friends, Sara, had… Read more

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This past weekend, I headed down to Charleston, SC with a group of friends for fall break. Even though it was a “break” from school, we all seemed to still have homework to do. One of my friends, Sara, had a 2000 word paper due on the Saturday, and was really trying to get it finished before we arrived in Charleston. So, as we were driving, she sat in the middle seat on her computer, typing out the essay. We hit a lot of traffic, and her computer ended up dying about 2 hours before we reached Charleston. When her computer shut off, she sat for a few minutes, and then pulled out her iPhone. Within seconds of unlocking her phone, she had opened up her essay on her iPhone screen, and had begun working again. At first, her thumbs were flying over the tiny screen, and she seemed to be very productive. However, after about 10 minutes of intense screen-switching, scrolling, zooming, and typing, she put the phone down and simply said, “I can’t.”

For experience #3, Brendan, Emily, and I focused our work on the digital divide. The term  “‘digital divide’ is often used to discuss the connectivity gap among distinct regions and demographics.” (Goodman) We thought it would be interesting to explore this gap, and create a gap of our own within the classroom. To achieve this, we split the class into two groups, and restricted one group from the use of any electronics, and the other to the use of a smartphone. With their restrictions in place, we then told the groups to research the idea of copyright inequality, and to turn in a paragraph response and a list of sources used.

I was assigned to group B, otherwise known as group “Access Denied.” We were not allowed to use anything that connected to the Internet to conduct our research, and could not even bring our phones along with us for the purposes of time keeping.

Stack of iPhones prior to the experience

The question we were researching had to do with forming a position on whether or not copyright laws produce or enhance inequality. Although the question itself was not difficult, we had no idea where to find the physical books on copyright laws, so we went to speak to a librarian on the first floor of the Boatwright Library. Even though she was very helpful in looking up books for us, at first she did not understand why we couldn’t do it ourselves. When Damian approached her, she suggested he look up his topic in the library’s system. However, the library’s system is online, and we weren’t allowed to access it ourselves. When we explained the experience and why we weren’t able to look it up, she willingly did it for us, and gave us a list of several books to find.

Speaking with the librarian

The fact that the library’s system exists online was extremely interesting to me, as I considered what it would be like to be without constant access to an Internet connection. Although our librarian was willing and helpful, we might not have been so lucky. Suppose you were a high school student without Internet or a smart phone, and had to do all of your research projects at your town’s public library. You can only book two-hour timeslots on the computer each day, and you need this precious time to actually write your research papers. You can’t afford to use your minutes looking up books. So, each time you needed to find a book or a journal, you would have to do what we did, and ask a librarian to do something that the library expects you to be able to take care of yourself. The first two times the librarian might be helpful and even kind, but if you are coming in every week or two with a different project, it may not continue to be the case. Would you become notorious for not being able to look up your own books? Would the librarians eventually refuse to help you? Would you be forced to cut into your 2 hours and look up the books yourself, possibly causing you to have to then rush to finish your paper? Questions like these were swimming through my head as I tried to transpose our current library experience into one occurring at a public library.

Although the librarian in the Boatwright Memorial Library was very helpful, she delivered the unwelcome news that the books we needed were in the Law Library. Luckily, Elizabeth knew how to get there, because I certainly didn’t.

The walk from Boatwright Library (5) to the Law Library (19)

Once we arrived in the Law Library, we began looking for the books. We went straight to where we thought the books would be, and realized we had no idea where we were or where we should be looking. Eventually, Elizabeth went and spoke to a Law Librarian who pointed us in the right direction. However, we had all sort of split up to look for the books, and we ended up losing Brendan. Because we didn’t have our cellphones, we had no way to contact him, and had no idea where he was or what he was doing. As we were very much in a time crunch, we didn’t stop to look for him, and proceeded to find the books.

Damian, Elizabeth, and I skimmed through a book each, and quickly jotted down some thoughts. We had no idea what time it was (again, no cellphone to quickly check), but we had a feeling we were very crunched for time. The stress was real in this situation, and we even considered running back to Boatwright. Ultimately, we used the walk back to gather some thoughts, and to try and write up a paragraph. Thinking and writing while walking is extremely difficult, and it felt like our thoughts were extremely jumbled and not going in the direction we wanted them to. Without anything substantial on our page, we made it back to Boatwright, and found Brendan at the front of the library, sitting at a computer. We had run out of time, and needed to quickly come up with something to hand in. Our thoughts were flying everywhere and it was hard for us to come up with anything concrete. On top of not having our thoughts together, we also didn’t have our sources together. Although Elizabeth remembered her book, in my rush to get back in time I completely forgot to write down the name of the book we cited in our paragraph! It wasn’t the end of the world because it was part of the experience, but I can’t even imagine how stressful that would’ve been if I was a highschool student rushing between libraries in a time crunch. I probably would’ve had a mental breakdown.

Searching for books

Going through the research process without connectivity was something I found interestingly difficult and eye opening. I have always taken my ability to get online for granted, and have never thought of what it would be like if this ability was taken away from me. Watching my friend put her smartphone down in defeat after she tried to write her paper on it seriously made me reconsider what I do take for granted. Similarly to how Sara couldn’t work on her iPhone, Goodman’s article states that (like Sara), “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.” But what if Sara didn’t have a choice? What if she only had her smartphone? Sara is intelligent, and does well in school, but how would this change if she only had a smartphone? Would her potential and intelligence be lost somewhere between the difference of a touch screen keyboard and an actual computer?

In her article, Goodman refers to a Whitehouse study, which showed that only 71% of Americans have broadband at home. In a country of over 316 million people, that leaves close to 90 million Americans without a broadband connection in their homes. 90 million is a lot of people, but coming from an island with a population of 65,000 it is hard to conceptualize what 90 million actually means. To help my understanding of how immense the divide is, I tried to relate America’s 90 million to my 90 million. I decided that it would take over 1,300 Bermudas to reach the number of Americans without Internet access in their homes. That’s over 1000 countries (albeit tiny ones) put together. Connectivity is something so taken for granted, and yet there are over 1300 Bermudas without it.

 

Bermuda*1000

The digital divide creates a gap, but after this experience I also feel like it creates an abyss. A place of lost potential and performance. Because I have never personally experienced the digital divide in my lifetime, it was hard to actually imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of it. However, after going through the experience without any access, I truly feel like this experience opened my eyes to the complex issues and difficulties surrounding the divide.


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A “New Economy” in the Digital Age?

// Posted by on 10/15/2014 (10:40 AM)

As we took our seats, the subjects of a mysterious and seemingly innocent experiment, those of us who had not developed this experience were blissfully oblivious as to the unexpectedly stressful and nightmarish hour that lie ahead.

The class had… Read more

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As we took our seats, the subjects of a mysterious and seemingly innocent experiment, those of us who had not developed this experience were blissfully oblivious as to the unexpectedly stressful and nightmarish hour that lie ahead.

The class had been split into two groups, aptly named group A and group B. Members of both groups were given a deceptively simple assignment: to write a 250-word essay about digital copyrighting, and whether or not it perpetuates inequality. As is usually the case in life, the assignment had a catch: To simulate the digital divide experienced by those in a lower socioeconomic bracket, members of group A would have to do research solely on their phones. Members of group B could only research using books and could not use any device that connected to the Internet. A library computer could only be used to type up the essay. Suddenly, being a member of group B did not seem like such a lucky deal, as I had originally thought. Even so, I still assumed that the task was doable, if challenging.

I had no idea just how tense the subsequent hour would be. We first visited with librarian Marcia Whitehead, who was enormously helpful, but unfortunately left us with the harsh reality that to access the resources we needed—without the aid of the Internet—we would have to travel to the law library. Thus began a 6-minute trek and an even longer search for the books we needed. When we finally found them (of course they were tucked away in a secluded nook), we were confronted not only with excessively technical legal texts and other sources that were not entirely applicable to our central thesis. Whereas we wanted a more accessible listing of examples of copyright infringement and its perpetuation of inequality, what we often found was a five-page legal examination of copyright, defining it and laying out consequences of infringement. Debates over the implications, socioeconomic, ethical, or otherwise, were sorely lacking, or at least in many of the texts we encountered in our necessarily brief search.

We did what we could, jotting down notes frantically, but ultimately providing weak support for our contention. We did not have any other options, though, and realizing that time was running short, we could only place the books back on the shelf in resignation, running once again back to Boatwright. We attempted to scribble the notes that would constitute our unfortunate excuse for an essay as we walked briskly back to the library. In all the confusion, we had lost Brendan, but luckily, he thought ahead and claimed a computer so that we could quickly type out our argument. Nonetheless, we did not have enough time and turned our assignment in late. I highly doubt anyone in the group felt very good about it.

Below, for my documentation (all of which is courtesy of Dr. Rosatelli, since I did not have a phone with which to take pictures or video), I have included a link to a YouTube video with a clip of Aisling, Elizabeth, and myself in the elevator of the law library, explaining the scenario in which we found ourselves embroiled at that point in time, as well as the final class discussion, in which we expressed our findings and our emotions both as experienced during and in the aftermath of the experience. I also have included below a picture of us searching frantically for a book among the shelves of the law library. I chose these mediums of documentation so as to provide a more immersive and visual representation of the difficulties experienced and the stress with which we responded as a group. For as much as I can express in words, video is an even more effective tool that will ideally enhance the reader/viewer’s understanding of the experience and the extent to which my group found ourselves in a situation with which we were considerably uncomfortable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbTkAkcjwj8

For group B, it was a horrendous experience. Insulated from the realities of the world faced by those less fortunate than us, we had taken for granted our laptops and smartphones and the instant gratification of the Internet. Deprived of those tools, however, we simply could not perform at a high enough level to keep up even with our counterparts in group A, let alone with other students fortunate enough to have complete access to Internet-connected devices.

Though it may seem simple enough to insist that ours was merely a simulation, and not necessarily an accurate depiction of the tribulations faced by high school students from lower-income households, who might not have access to a smartphone or laptop, the fact nonetheless remains that, whether or not we wish to confront the dismal reality of the experience, a considerable contingent of the high school student population relies on public libraries in such a way. As I write, countless students across the country are working frantically to research in a library, wishing they had access to their own computer and failing to find works that apply directly to a paper they are writing. Many are finding that allotted time for computer usage simply is not conducive to the writing of a thoroughly-researched, well-developed thesis. For too many high school students, our experience was not simply an exception; it was the rule.

When I was younger and my family was facing the inhospitable conditions that resulted from the so-called “Great Recession” in 2009, I found myself in the position of those students, and I encountered many of these challenges along the way, relying on public libraries but struggling to complete work in the allotted hour of computer usage. Even with this background experience, the class simulation offered a new perspective, as I was faced with a situation even worse than ones I had experienced heretofore. I am sure that almost everyone in the class was afforded a new perspective on the digital divide. The question that remains, however, is what conclusions we draw from this experience with regards not only to copyright law and the digital divide in general, but also to more overarching topics of discussion from throughout the unit.

It is fascinating—and necessary for our purposes—to juxtapose the idealistic visions of the “New Economy” with the current conditions in which many are now mired. Nicholas Negroponte, who in the mid-1980s had created the MIT Media Lab, envisioned the “New Economy” as one in which existing hierarchies were subverted and superseded by a progressive network of nodes, in effect enabling every individual therein to start anywhere and work on a more equal footing with their colleagues and those who might formerly have been labeled “superiors.”

Negroponte’s notion of a “New Economy” was far from some fringe ideal. Men like Stewart Brand, who worked alongside Negroponte at the Media Lab, shared his libertarian vision. Brand would go on to serve as a co-founder of the Global Business Network, a consulting firm that advocated the aforementioned flattening of hierarchies and would boast such impressive clients as Royal Dutch/Shell and AT&T.

In a profoundly significant way, the GBN represented the propagation of counterculturist ideas within the framework of an evolving economy looking to move into a new age. This intertwinement of counterculture and the libertarianism of Brand and Negroponte (along with that of countless others, including Kevin Kelly and Louis Rossetto, the executive editor and founder of Wired Magazine, respectively) would later reveal itself even more substantively in a manifesto entitled the “Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age,” written by four authors, including Esther Dyson, a writer for Wired at the time. The “Magna Carta” likened Cyberspace to a new frontier, which the American populace had to be empowered to explore, to pursue “civilization’s truest, highest calling.” The manifesto not only called for, but also coincided with, the deregulation of the telecommunications industry as part of Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” Indeed, in the 1990s, the counterculturist ideals of Brand and others were fused with the libertarian laissez-faire fiscal policy so essential to the Republican Party, and this fusion would be represented in Wired Magazine, one of many conduits for the dissemination of idealistic visions of the digital age and the “New Economy.”

On the surface, for those incognizant of the digital divide and conditions represented by the in-class simulation, it may seem that the “New Economy” has delivered what it promised. To look quickly at “accelerators,” like Y Combinator, which finance the start-up businesses of promising young entrepreneurs, accelerating the growth of a product or a business into a more lucrative entity, it seems that we are living in a world in which anyone can simply come up with an idea for a digital technology and subsequently earn tens of thousands of dollars, and maybe more in the long run. When venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, advocates students NOT attend college and, under his Thiel Fellowships, will pay them $100,000 in a two-year grant to launch a startup instead, it is easy to be led to believe that the economy is changing and that the hierarchies of old truly have been leveled, that the status symbol of college is no longer necessary to have a chance, and that anyone can live the “American Dream,” whatever that really is. Unfortunately, such is a woefully inadequate and incomplete picture, and it provides a largely untruthful representation of the economy in the digital age.

Truthfully speaking, the “New Economy” does not really seem to be all that new. In fact, it seems like more of the same, in deceptive new packaging. Y Combinator may be subsidizing young entrepreneur’s startups, but its intent is not to promote the growth of new businesses so much as to have its investment pay dividends when that venture is ultimately sold to a corporation. Thiel may believe that students should skip college, but that erroneously presupposes that every student is a computer prodigy. People like Thiel, an outspoken libertarian, are the same ones who led the movement towards the “New Economy,” but they are also the same ones who, when pressed to discuss the digital divide, give answers like “That’s not one I focus on as much.”

In the end, it would appear that the “New Economy” was designed not truly for the betterment of every citizen, but rather clearly for the betterment of large corporations, which have benefitted greatly and become, more so than ever before, centralized forces in the private sector, holding sizable concentrations of wealth and power. The hierarchical structure of the “old economy” has not been eradicated; nor has it been superseded by a new network of nodes, so to speak. What we have found instead is that the “New Economy” is instead a complex network of supposed nodes that is structured in such a way as to constitute a complicated system of nested hierarchies, thereby maintaining the decades-old status quo, in a different, superficially appealing form.

Corporations and other powerful parties in the “new” economic order are not simply gaining power, but they are often manipulating the means of wealth attribution in a way that makes economic opportunity—supposedly a cornerstone of libertarian values—less accessible than ever before. A prime example is the high-frequency trading that has come to dominate the stock exchange, not only domestically, but also internationally. In essence, trading firms like Tradeworx utilize machinery that operates using autonomous algorithms that, via transmissions communicated through globe-spanning networks of fiber-optic cable, execute trades faster than humans can intervene. One of the fundamental consequences of HFT for the “average citizen,” not privy to the luxuries afforded a Wall Street trader or oligarch, is that the stock prices published on websites like Yahoo Finance are obsolete by the time potential buyers view them. Stock prices are fluctuating constantly throughout the course of the day, as algorithms perpetually buy and sell stocks to make minuscule gains that, multiplied by millions of trades, add up to substantial dividends. In all of this, David Golumbia is correct in his assertion that the majority of individuals are excluded from participating meaningfully. Such is far from the supposedly democratizing impact that was supposed to be effected by computerization and the rise of the Internet. Indeed, the Internet has equally empowered all citizens, but it serves especially to keep those at the top at the top, as evidenced in the stock exchange and the dizzying rapidity with which trades are being executed, precluding more consequential involvement from a more socioeconomically diverse array of citizens.

The structure of this class and the sequence with which we have discussed different topics is intriguing and appropriate, as I have come to recognize over time that the digital utopianism that at first seems so appealing becomes less and less so over time. Whereas in an earlier unit, especially after the first experience in the LA Live Chatroom, it was easy to stand behind the idealistic vision of a democratic Internet and all of the possibilities presented thereby, the realities with which we are confronted in the units on cybersecurity and the digital economy serve as a reminder that, to a large extent, digital utopianism—and the idealism that has come to so strongly characterize it—is fundamentally flawed and looks only at a portion of the picture. Technological determinism, the notion that technology is inherently democratic, is enticing, but ultimately wrong. Saskia Sassen’s thesis is ultimately a more accurate depiction of technology, as she insists that nothing about the Internet is inherently democratic. Indeed, she is correct. Mark Poster is partially correct when he writes in “Information Please” that the Internet may bring about the “overturning of certain systems of social control,” but it does not have to (193). It can be used, most simplistically, for good or for evil (though such a simplistic, monochromatic dichotomy eschews the convoluted nature of reality).

How, then, can the Internet be rendered a democratizing agent, if at the present time it is far from such a force? The answer is, as always, more complicated and requires more extensive elaboration than I can herein provide, but one such solution is presented in the current debate over copyright, which served as one of the principal foci of the class simulation.

Copyright law, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 more specifically, is most commonly construed by the government and media companies as a defense of the rights of a creator of a work, be it literary, artistic, or otherwise. These authors and artists, we have been told, have a right to recognition and compensation when their work is borrowed by another. As a matter of principle, such seems to be a reasonable argument. What is left out of the equation, however, is the complex web of interests surrounding copyright law. Who really profits?

“RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” does an excellent job of depicting with discomfiting accuracy the state of copyright in this country, and who the real winners and losers are. Anyone who believes that copyright laws are designed to benefit only the creators of a work should consider the fact made clear in the documentary that over 90% of media companies are owned by larger corporations like Disney, NewsCorp, GE, Viacom, and TimeWarner. These are powerful entities that constitute equally powerful lobbies in this country. They have tremendous influence in politics, and they have continued to push for more stringent copyright legislation. Some of the most recent alterations to the law include the provision that corporations can retain a copyright for 95 years after the life of an author. This number, it should be pointed out, will only be increased over time, yet another representation of the ways in which the “New Economy” and the digital age have failed to democratize, instead merely consolidating power in the hands of multinational corporations.

Indeed, answering the question posed during the simulation, digital copyright does perpetuate inequality. On a basic level, I will speak simplistically and give a personal example. If I need to analyze a movie for class, but do not personally own it, I have to go to the library to find it. Without free public availability online (assuming—unrealistically and only for the sake of argument—complete compliance with the law and the extinction of illegal downloading sites), I could not access the movie without paying. If I were a student who could not afford to pay the fee for an online rental, I would find myself reliant upon a likely insufficient online synopsis, and would not be adequately prepared to analyze the film for class, be it in an essay or on a test. Every other student who could afford to rent would be given the upper hand. Again, it is a simplistic example, but it nonetheless serves as a necessary reminder that digital copyright can feasibly serve to perpetuate inequality. On a more complex level, however, who is to say that Girl Talk, the musician who serves as the focal point of “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto,” does not have a right to make mash-ups of classic songs, creatively rendering old art something decidedly new and different and innovative? For a mash-up artist aspiring to move up, to become a star, how does digital copyright do anything but bar them from reaching the heights of other musicians? Is it fair that the law can prevent Girl Talk from doing what he does best to rise up the socioeconomic ladder? To answer such a question requires that we consider, as Poster does in “Information Please,” the relationship between cultural objects existing in the physical realm and those existing in cyberspace.

Poster sees a fundamental flaw in the notion that illegally downloading a music file is equivalent to stealing a CD from a store, writing, “When the CD is taken from the store, the store no longer has it; when the file is downloaded, the person sharing the file still has it” (189). I do not profess to have all the answers with regards to the complex nature of the intangible cultural objects of the digital space, but Poster’s argument seems to incorrectly define theft—or at least he does so in a manner that contradicts my subjective understanding of the term— though of course that definition may be altered by the differing nature of intangible digital objects. Illegal downloading of music may simply entail copying, but it presupposes that theft occurs without a loss of profit for one party involved. In other words, the means by which the music is “stolen” may be different, but the end result is not, so it may theoretically still constitute theft. A stolen CD is problematic because it deprives the store owner of a profit that could have been made off of the product. Though online only a copy is made, someone is still deprived of profit. My intention is not to insist that we grieve the loss of profit for multibillion dollar corporations that probably are not hurt terribly when a 12-year-old girl illegally downloads a $7.99 album, but it is to suggest that the increasingly complex nature of intangible cultural objects must push us to consider definitions of concepts as seemingly simple as “theft” if we are to come to a greater understanding with regards to proper action to be taken on copyright. I am certainly not in the business of defending abusive copyright legislation so much as calling for a more fervent debate over the relation between the physical and non-physical realms we currently occupy.

So digital copyright is perpetuating inequality, along with high-frequency trading, and corporations in the “New Economy” have served to make themselves more central figures in the private sector than ever before. Working against the democratizing potential of the Internet, wealthy tycoons exclude the less powerful from engaging meaningfully in the economy, monopolizing power and minimizing opportunity along the way. The picture thus far has frankly been incredibly depressing; but to paint such a picture without examining the rays of light that we now see would be a gross oversimplification.

It is exceedingly appropriate that the class experience asked us to consider digital copyright in relation to inequality. The issue is so crucial in this discussion, in fact, that the solution thereto provides one of many such solutions to broader inequality that has resulted from the implementation of “New Economy” policies which have too often effected a change diametrically opposed to that which was promised.

Poster makes clear in his examination of copyright that to find solutions to the problems we currently face, “[w]e must invent an entirely new copyright law that rewards cultural creation but also fosters new forms of use or consumption and does not inhibit the development of new forms of digital cultural exchange that explore the new fluidity of texts, images, and sounds” (209). Though seemingly overwhelming a solution at first, “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” introduces us to a man who provides one very simple but very effective step towards a broader, more democratic solution to problems we face and inequality which must be rooted out: Lawrence Lessig. Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School and an anti-copyright activist who travels the world speaking out against copyright legislation.

In 2001, Lessig founded Creative Commons, a non-profit group that offers free licenses which can be used by creators of a work to signify that, instead of “all rights reserved,” it is only “some rights reserved,” and that certain rights have been waived so that others may borrow more freely. It seems to be an incredibly simple concept, but in actuality it is incredibly powerful. If Creative Commons licenses were more greatly expanded so as to ensure freer dissemination of cultural objects online, providing a wider range of access to those objects, that alone would serve as a step towards eliminating the inequality with which the current economic order is plagued. It would at least begin to establish a foundation for a more democratic Internet in which access to cultural objects is made more equal and opportunity, in turn, is expanded.

I am not under the illusion that Creative Commons can single-handedly solve the problems that we face with regards to corporate influence over the digital world and the economy thereof. I do recognize, however, the democratizing potential inherent in Lessig’s organization. His example should serve as inspiration to us all, a helpful reminder that we are more than capable of organizing within the framework of the Internet. We—the heretofore repressed masses—can provide the push for democratization, and in so doing, subvert the autocratic rule of authoritarian governments and monolithic corporations. The Internet may not be inherently democratic, but if used to work towards the proper ends, we, as agents of change, can make it so.

For as much of the complexity of the issue I may understand, I will openly admit as per usual that I am not omniscient with regards to solutions to these complicated issues. I do recognize, however, that change can be effected. Millions took to Twitter and Facebook to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act, another piece of copyright legislation, and the bill has yet to become law. It is doubtful at this point in time that it ever will. Of course civic engagement can have an impact on policy decisions in this country. Unfortunately, we must also consider that large corporations like Google also opposed SOPA, and that their influence must be felt in stopping the law as well. Nonetheless, social media and the Internet, if used for the right reasons, can bring about change if we choose to step up and act, as was the case, for example, in the “Arab Spring” uprisings. We know what the problems are, and we see glimmers of hope in new solutions, like Creative Commons, but no change will come if no action is taken first, so it is contingent on the American citizenry to become engaged and to use the Internet as a means of democratic protestation and organization.

As I said before, the organization of this class is both intriguing and appropriate. We see now that if change is to be brought about, it will require organization with the aid of the tools we are afforded within the digital landscape. To render the Internet a more democratizing force, we must make it such, and use it to work towards a democratic end. Though we may not now understand how to do so, or the precedent which exists for digital movements, the next unit should provide ample framework for the implementation of such a movement. We now move forward, beginning to explore civic engagement in the digital age, looking to subversive movements like Occupy and Anonymous and the impact created thereby.

Group “Business” clearly did an excellent job of raising the questions that needed to be raised, and though more exist than can be answered, it is my hope that I have at least skimmed the surface thoroughly enough to highlight, as always, a path forward, and one, I now realize, that likely lies in the next unit. What a pivotal one it shall be.


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The Digital Divide, or a Digital Abyss?

// Posted by on 04/23/2014 (11:34 PM)

A map showing internet connections around the world. Source.

The digital divide is the inequality of access to, as well as use of or even knowledge of, information and communication technologies. This divide is usually based in socioeconomic inequality,… Read more

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A map showing internet connections around the world. Source.

The digital divide is the inequality of access to, as well as use of or even knowledge of, information and communication technologies. This divide is usually based in socioeconomic inequality, but can also stem from other factors such as location. This divide can be recognized not only on a national level within a single country, but on a global level as well.

The term “Digital Divide” implies a problem within itself: there is a divide, an inequality, in access to digital technology. My research problem is to explore this divide more thoroughly with three main questions. 1) How much of an obstacle does the divide pose? 2) Should digital access be considered a basic human right? 3) Can the divide be solved/lessened? The main argument I’m focusing on is the question of whether or not digital access should be considered a basic human right, which I am arguing it should be.

On a human level, the digital divide looks like a single mother of 3 trying to find a job to provide for her family, but with little access or knowledge of computer, cannot apply to most positions because they require online applications. It looks like an intelligent 17 year old from a less developed neighborhood whose high school never taught her any form of computer literacy and who now has little confidence in moving on to higher education. It looks like an immigrant who doesn’t know he can call his family for free. The digital divide can manifest itself in an individual being unable to afford technology, them not knowing how to use technology, or them just not realizing the benefits of technology.

With nearly 7 billion people in the world, only about 30% of those people have ever even touched a computer before. The majority of the people who are digitally connected are concentrated in North America and Europe, well developed nations both socially and economically. This is a huge discrepancy in the representation of a global population within technology.

A map of connections around the world. Source.

If you zoom in on the issue of the digital divide within the scope of the United States, only 57% of individuals with an income less than $30,000 use internet, 80% with an income of $30,000-49,999, 86% with an income of $50,000-74,999, and 95% with an income of $75,000 or more. Again, there is an obvious gap in access to technology.

With my blog, I am exploring the who, what, where, when, how and why of the digital divide: what the digital divide even is, who it affects, where it is an issue, how long it has been and will continue to be an issue, how it can be solved, and why the digital divide even matters.

The majority of the information I have found so far is openly biased toward the idea of technology and access to the internet as a basic human right, which has been convenient since that is what the blog in general is advocating for. But it has been much more difficult to find resources that defend the opposing viewpoint, which is definitely something I want to include in my blog. I feel like an argument is not fully presented until it explores both the pros and the cons, so I still have some further research to do. But for the most part I want phase 2 of my blog to focus on potential ways to close the digital divide and testimonies as to why it is so important. For example, these two TedTalk videos give interesting perspectives on where the solution to the digital divide can be taken:

To keep up with my exploration, you can follow my blog at www.DAdivided.wordpress.com


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The Roadmap to Universal Broadband

// Posted by on 04/22/2014 (12:36 AM)

The Above image show a map of the United States and the speed at which internet access is available. This map represent the theme of final project, the search for Universal Broadband and the end of the Digital Divide.… Read more

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The Above image show a map of the United States and the speed at which internet access is available. This map represent the theme of final project, the search for Universal Broadband and the end of the Digital Divide.

For my final project I initial proposed research regarding the concept of Internet access as a human right. As I began researching, the issue developed into current interactions between the United States Government and the many multi-national corporations that provide broadband services to millions of Americans. My project started to turn towards this direction when I read about all of the different actions that are in plan to end the Digital Divide.

 

The Digital Divide is the separation between those who have access to Internet, and therefore information, and those who don’t. While I original believed that this divide occurred mainly due to individual’s inability to pay for Internet service, upon further research I realized that the problem was also caused by the lack on Internet infrastructure in many rural areas of the United States. Upon discovering this issue I began to research the multiple different actions plans that currently exist.

 

I was able to breakdown the focus of my research in United States government policy on broadband, the private sector plan, and Non-governmental organizations that are working to end the digital divide. Currently, my research can be found on alliedeering.tumblr.com. This tumblr is my currently workspace, but I plan to organize my research into a more clear presentation upon my finalization.

 

Some examples of the multiple different plans I have discovered to end the digital divide include that of the Federal Commission of Communication within the United States Government. Their National Broadband Plan is an action plan to provide broadband infrastructure to all areas of the United States. This plan seeks to create a “high-performance America” by improving innovation, investment, and inclusion in Internet services for the Citizens. Their goals include

  • At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.
  • The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.
  • Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
  • Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
  • To ensure the safety of the American people, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.
  •  To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

 

While these goals are comprehensive and aggressive what is missing from the action plan is means to achieve these goals and the budget that is required to enact all this change. This is where the cooperation between the public sector and private sector comes into play. Similar issues as this was dealt with in the 1980’s with the expansion of the home phone network. The field of telecommunications has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, and as we move into the future will continue to change.

 

This is simply a preview of the type of research I am currently doing in exploring whose responsibility it is to provide the United States with this service, that we as a society as deemed essential. As I move forward I plan to further track the impact that the United States, the telecommunication industry, and Non-governmental organizations have made in finding a social for the digital divide.

 

My questions I would like to ask the class revolve around the concept of responsibility and commodity. As the Internet becomes further ingrained into our daily lives, will be call for the transition from private sector management to public sector? Do you think the government should provide Internet access? Subsidize it? Require private companies to provide access to rural areas? These questions amongst others are in the survey posted below. Please fill out my survey tomorrow, in hopes of helping me along my journey to discover that path that America should embark on in hopes of closing the digital divide.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WZMGD3W

 


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Exploration of the Digital Divide: Phase 1

// Posted by on 04/21/2014 (6:24 PM)

Over the course of the semester, we have continuously observed and discussed how influential and, often times, imperative technology is in our current society.  Our culture is undoubtedly a digital one as the Internet and… Read more

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Over the course of the semester, we have continuously observed and discussed how influential and, often times, imperative technology is in our current society.  Our culture is undoubtedly a digital one as the Internet and new technology are deeply ingrained into almost every aspect of our lives.  What I would like to continue to investigate for my final project is the role of technology in education, primarily in AmericaStudents in impoverished neighborhoods and who attend public community schools do not have even the most basic access to technology and the Internet.  Without technology, many of them are never able to learn what most of us take for granted: how to save a word document, how to choose a font, or how to properly format an essay.  In short, they are devoid of a kind of “common” knowledge that is seemingly necessary for survival in our digital age.  In turn, it these young adults are thrown into a world with a significant disadvantage.

 

-Considering the data above, is is apparent how low-income individuals have significantly less Internet access than their wealthy counterparts.  Without Internet access, these individuals tend to use the Web  for mostly entertainment purposes rather than online learning & educational opportunities.  

After many class discussions and course readings we have done throughout the semester, it has become apparent just how large of a gap there is in our society in regards online access.  This can be seen in especially in K-12 educationTechnology and the Internet have become so connected to our everyday lives, it seems almost impossible to successfully function in our world without them.  More than eighty percent of the Fortune 500 companies require online job applications, and even national chains like Foot Locker no longer allow potential employees to apply in person. With companies quickly beginning to digitize their application processes, it is/will continue to make it incredibly difficult for individuals without access to the Internet or a computer to have a fair chance of employment.

Furthermore, how is this affecting students’ education?  Without access to technology or the Internet, there is a world of knowledge and research that is completely absent from school curriculum.  The majority of students in high-poverty neighborhoods and schools do not have access to technology or the Internet at home or at school, let alone the mere knowledge of how to properly utilize the digital tools of the 21st Century.  Is this fair?  For me, the answer is no.  Most of the kids living in low-income households have parents who are working two or three jobs to make it by.  They are at an immediate disadvantage to their more affluent peers as they are not exposed to the many learning opportunities that other students have access to from an early age.  For many, technology is exciting, especially in education and something that needs to be incorporated into every classroom in America.

The knowledge of how to use technology and the Internet have indeed become a form of modern literacy and will only continue to become even more so.   High school students that do not have the opportunity to learn how to use it and feel comfortable in doing so are deprived of knowledge and opportunities that the majority of our generation has already developed.  Furthermore, this lack of access limits students from a whole world of knowledge and research that the Internet supports.  It seems as though doors are closed to them before they even know they exist.  I feel that, being a college student who has had unlimited access to technology and the Internet for the majority of my life, it is my responsibility to explore and understand the inequality that exists in our education system.  I think that a large part of my generation is ignorant to the fact of how many kids are without these digital privileges and how lucky we are to have had access to these mediums throughout our education.

By focusing on this particular topic, I hope to learn more about this issue and widen my perspective as well as help to educate my classmates and peers.  Phase 1 explores various opinions and stories on the “Digital Divide” in American Education and I would like to  further explore the technological gaps in our educational system and research more about the statistics and movements to make access to technology in schools a staple.  In Phase 2, I would like to continue to explore the ways in which technology affects students in the classroom.  Does it truly make a difference?  What methods are being used in high-poverty school districts?  What is realistic when thinking about changes we make in the future?  If we consider the ability to know how to use technology as a form of literacy, there all endless questions that arise.  Should all schools be required to provide their students with certain technology and access to the Internet?  What effect does it have on them if they do not?  Is it a human right for underage individuals in America to have this basic access?  For my final project, I will consult a variety of sources to delve deeper into the complexities and questions that this topic poses.

*A single assignment I would like for all of you to complete is to write a small piece on whether or not you think basic access to technology and the Internet should be considered a human right for students in grades K-12 in America.  If you do, please also include how you would contribute to solving the problem of the “Digital Divide” in the American education system (it can be anything you want…A small or big idea!)  I want to post your responses on my blog so be thoughtful & creative!

In responding to this question, keep in mind all of the way in which technology & the Internet effects one’s technical skills, web literacy, economic skills, and self-confidence!

**Email me your responses and any additional feedback you have on my blog so far (link below):

http://cgandryc.tumblr.com

(Also, for some of my posts you need to click on the title to see my full entry…don’t know why)

Sources for Graphs:

http://www.pewinternet.org/2010/11/24/use-of-the-internet-in-higher-income-households/

 


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Computers in the classroom: Problematic or progressive?

// Posted by on 03/03/2014 (12:22 AM)

 

Before reading the article “The digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind”, I always thought of the digital divide more so as a distinction between age gaps and computer literacy, not so much by socioeconomic status.  The numbers speak… Read more

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Before reading the article “The digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind”, I always thought of the digital divide more so as a distinction between age gaps and computer literacy, not so much by socioeconomic status.  The numbers speak to the fact that America is indeed a nation digitized.  What is most concerning is the impact internet availability and usage is having on the political and social side of America.  Interestingly, the initial concept of the internet was created as a medium of unity, free of any hierarchy, however today it is now only further perpetuating the very things it intended not to, including a nation deeply separated according to socioeconomic standings. With jobs and college applications almost exclusively available online, homework assignments, news mediums and even healthcare, the need to be plugged seems to be more important now then ever. Susan Crawford telecommunications expert and former white house official even goes as far as to saying that fast and reliable internet is a basic human right. The digitization of America and this new dichotomy seems to only further disadvantage the ones who need help the most.  Do you think  the Internet should be considered a basic human right? Or do you think this is going to far? Do you think this is a “poor persons” problem? The markets problem? or rather a problem for society as a whole?

 

I also found it alarming that some middle and high school teens didn’t know what Times New Roman font was or how to save a word document, but can still maneuver their way through twitter and other social media sites. By giving students “smart phones” in hopes that it will be used to further education may sound good in theory, however I think can be problematic then anticipated.  Incorporating too much technology into education is a slippery slope, especially into social media, technology obsessed generations. I find it interesting that our generation specifically is targeted for being technology “junkies” and often criticized for being glued to our devices, but what do people expect, when we are basically required to be plugged in to function in society? I realize that incorporating technology into the classroom is just the evolution of education, attempting to adapt to the times, however I think it is beginning to take on to large of a role.  Ipads have replaced notebooks, “smartboards” have replaced blackboard and chalk, and “blogging” and other online resources are often required aspects of our curriculum, posing the question is society trying to keep up with us or are we trying to keep up with society? I think it is incredibly important to have technology play a role in education, but I do think it we are getting further and further away from some of the fundamentals of education, creating a whole new playing field, at the expense of poor, lower class Americans. Do you think technology has too large a role in education? Do you think this a good thing or a bad thing?

 


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Are Cellphones a Good Solution for the Digital Divide?

// Posted by on 03/01/2014 (5:06 PM)

As college students we use technology in almost every aspect of our studying throughout the day. We type our papers on our laptops, read our textbooks on our ipads, and are in constant communication with our professors via email on… Read more

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As college students we use technology in almost every aspect of our studying throughout the day. We type our papers on our laptops, read our textbooks on our ipads, and are in constant communication with our professors via email on our smart phones. It seems unimaginable to think of coming to college and not having the basic knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word or even how to send an email. However in the article “The Digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind” it highlights a significant portion of our population that is still growing up illiterate on the computer. Reflecting back on my experiences not only enrolling in college but also registering in the beginning, not having access to technology and in particular computers would have put me at a significant disadvantage.

The article focuses on whether or not it was a human or civil right for students to have access to technology that is crucial in this day and age. Before learning more about this subject and having a discussion in class I would have never considered providing students with computers or Internet access a human right. However the more and more I think about it, the more I see it disadvantaging the students. It’s similar to not teaching lower income student’s math and then throwing them into a subject in college where math is the lining for all course material. While learning how to send an email is seemingly easier to learn than 12 years of algebra it still creates a huge gap between students. I have yet to encounter someone at the University of Richmond who is not literate on the computer. Is this because those underprivileged students couldn’t attend Richmond because of the lack of access of technology to apply or is it next to impossible to excel at school without the use of a computer.

 

One of the ways that some people were attempting to combat the lack of access to computers and Internet connection was with the introduction of smart phones. In a New York Times article “Industry Makes Pitch That Smartphones Belong in Classroom” it talks about an experiment that gave smartphones to students without computer access and they saw a significant increase in the quality of the students performance. It is important to note though that the study was funding by Qualcomm a maker of cell phone chips for smartphones and who wants to break into to education market. The study also discussed how the students were heavily monitored on their use of smartphones and the scope with which they were allowed to use their phones. Cell phones have always been seen as a huge distraction and I feel this isn’t going to change anytime soon. The New York Times article talked about how 10 states have school wide bans of cell phones for this very reason I feel like cell phones would be significantly harder to monitor without access to the phones activity directly. I also feel it may be frustrating sometimes to do a large amount of schoolwork on my phone. I couldn’t imagine typing out a long research paper on such a small screen and a small keyboard.

 

Whether cell phones are the right answer to weakening the digital divide or making sure every high school student is literate in computers before heading off to college something does need to change in the public education system in regards to access to technology. If we allow this divide to keep growing bigger it is only going to strengthen the income gap between classes because it is impossible to advance in the world today without a basic level of computer knowledge. Whether or not it is a human right or a civil right is still unclear and might remain unclear for years to come but the right to learn should be available to everyone no matter what.

Articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/technology/16phone.html?_r=2&

http://mashable.com/2013/08/18/digital-divide/


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