Sunday, May 3, 2009

Toward a New Agenda" in Bridging the digital divide: Technology, community and public policy

Your assignment, in preparation for our final, is to thoroughly discuss the remaining articles via our blog. Our collaboration will make the entire review a lot more productive for everyone.

Keep the following tasks in mind as you're blogging the article:

1.)Provide a summary
2.)Define key terms
3.)Analyze potentially weak points in the author’s argument
4.)Compare your article to our past readings
5.)Read the other groups’ blog posts and comparing it to your article
6.)Relate your article to the larger themes from the class

Feel free to comment on any other group's blog discussions as well. You should be reading them anyway, and providing extra commentary will help us all.

In addition, we'll be distributing a study guide later. Please use this same blog space to discuss that guide.


  1. Summary

    This article makes two arguments. 1.) that advancing the community technology movement necessitates a pragmatic assesment of the potential and limitations of technology. 2.)employing IT to acheive broad social goals will require a greater degree of coordination among key actors, as well as a willingness on the part of these actors to take on new roles.

    This article then goes on to list a number of findings which include:
    Access: it it imperitive that we look beyond gaps in access and ask why some groups have obtained access more quickly than others, who controlls the internet, and how we can best provide curriculum that thrives in the information age.

    CTCs are a growing new form of community orginization: they deliver the benefits of information age to those who have been passed by.

    The idea that technology does not replace face to face interaction: CTCs often reinforce "weak-ties" by creating positive extalites.

    Youth must be trained for the future: May be difficult, but is useful that the youth be trained with specific IT skills so that they can learn to think in new ways.

    The article also goes on to describe how the pieces are falling into place in the seattle community, and regions that do not currently benefit form technology through ctc's, policy makers recognizing the importance of the digital divide, and traditional institutions such as schools and libraries who realize the the role that they play.

  2. Defining Key Terms

    Lower-order tasks: Less sophisticated uses of the internet such as word processing. Those who use technology for lower order tasks don’t reap the same benefits as other people who partake in higher-order tasks. Looking back to Exam 2, lower-order tasks are what Van Dijk referred to as “instrumental skills” and “informational skills.”

    Higher-order tasks: Using IT in more sophisticated ways such as analyzing information and design. Referring back to Exam 2, higher-order tasks are basically the same as possessing what Van Dijk coined as “strategic skills.”

    Social leveler: Newer technology with the capacity and capability of eliminating inequalities created by elite control of information.

    Community Technology Center (CTC): A form of community organization. Their primary mission is to bring technology to underserved communities. According to the article, CTC’s “deliver the benefits of the information age to those who have been passed by” (223). Also, “they have benefited from the advantage of newness: they tend not to have been bound up in existing bureaucratic arrangements” (224). In discussion, we determined that CTC’s are indicators of racial ravines, are good ways to see a broader digital divide, are open to the public, and are often times located in libraries (discussion, 2/17).

    Face-to-face activities: CTC’s serve the important function of bringing people together. This is one of the defining characteristics of a CTC. The activities within CTC’s are hands on and personal, creating positive benefits for newly established relationships between people who hadn’t connected prior to coming to the CTC. According to the article, “These connections expand individuals’ sets of ‘weak ties’ in low income communities. And these new ties operate as a form of bridging social capital, helping people to form relationships that provide access to the kind of resources needed to exit poverty” (224).

    Spatial inequalities: Geographical inequalities created by the inability to connect to the internet or utilize relevant technology.

    Community-building organizations: CBO’s are groups and/or places that bring people within a community together. They typically have strong ties to a respective community, making them an effective supplement to CTCs. According to the article “These organizations also have the ability to do creative and flexible programming. One of the most important roles for CBOs will be to document what they do and share these lessons with policy makers so that they can learn from this grassroots work and employ it to influence policy” (231).

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  4. Potentially Weak Points

    The first contradiction in this chapter is that Servon claims that information technologies can be used as levelers to break down socio-economical gaps and bridge the digital divide. However, as we have studied throughout the semester, the presence of ITs in one area and the absence in others is the main problem and source of the digital divide. Unless ITs are present in equal amounts and qualities in all areas, divides will remain between the areas that have and don't have sufficient information technologies.

    Servon does address this problem of uneven distribution, but it seems that many of his suggested solutions are too hopeful and ambitious. First, many of his suggestions to bridge the digital divide are based on small-scale, grassroots style efforts that are modeled on examples from Chapter 8 about Seattle. While many of these models worked well for the Seattle area, it would be unrealistic to expect every community in the U.S., much less the entire globe to simultaneously adopt such programs. The problem remains that those communities who are able to afford technologies and such programs are ones who already have these technologies. The digital divide is a problem on national and international levels. While grassroots efforts to increase access in a community might be the most effective solution for individual communities, these small programs would never fix the problem on a national scale.

    A second weak point in this article is the suggestions for national solutions to the problem of the digital divide. The author does note inability of small-scale efforts to fix this national problem, but his suggestions seem far too ambitious and expensive. He calls for reforms in policy, primary and secondary education, and libraries. He also notes the financial and organizational input that would be required of corporations, the federal government, CBOs, libraries, and philanthropic organizations. Even if such a large, multi-spectrum effort were to be organized, it would be required to supply every community in the U.S. with "sufficient" and continually upgrading IT access to truly fix the problem of the digital divide. While in theory his suggestions would no doubt help the digital divide greatly, there are still very few models or research on which to base such a large-scale and costly effort.

  5. Relate the Article to the larger Themes of the Class

    To close out this semester and our blue readers for this class I think that this article "Toward a New Agenda" in Bridging the digital divide: Technology, community and public policy, was a perfect way to wrap up what have done the last 18 weeks.
    The digital divide is narrowing, as are the gaps in accessibility. Technology alone will not level our deep historical inequalities: it is one tool, not the answer. A solution to further narrow the digital divide is out there, and more needs to be done to do this. This chapter by Servon touches on many of the things we have learned throughout the year.

    He feels that access is not a complete solution to the problem of the digital divide as we now need to focus on the content and training parts of the problem as it matters just what people are using these ITs for.

    He is really high on CTC's and the job they are doing in local communities. They are too small and scattered to be the ultimate answer to the problem, but he sees them as a stepping stone to the future as we are learning new lessons from them and by working with them we can then create a broader strategy to confront the digital divide.

    Ultimately though according to Servon, this movement has "amassed a significant amount of wisdom,knowledge, and experience" over the last few years, but it is now time to create a new policy agenda that will leverage this accumulated learning. How far will policy take the things we have learned this year in LIS 202? That is still to be seen, but the pieces are in place to further narrow the shift we are currently undergoing in our society that is, the shift in the digital divide.

  6. Some more Key Terms and Comparison of other group's article

    community technology movement: a part of a larger socioeconomic transformation that has shifted towards a new set of locally based institutions and programs (CBOs) that act to diffuse technology, engage people in civil society, and connect traditionally disadvantaged groups to the opportunities offered by the new economy (221)

    "tech-fix": a term coined by Weinberg to describe the myth that technology is a problem solver - technology alone will not level out deep rooted historical inequalities

    stopgap measure: CTCs are not only viewed as playing a key role building communities, and learning, but also as stopgap measures. This means thats they also serve to fill a void until the void is met by existing institutions that can better provide tools for their purpose (such as the education system becoming more sufficient for students to learn thru the internet, therefore the local coffee shop with free wifi acting as a main CTC for students to learn using the internet is no longer needed).

    The "Toward a New Agenda" article slightly discussed the topic represented by the "Reading race online" article. In "Reading race online", it talked about how online interactions tend to foster the stereotypes that we have of groups, and misattributions of persons based on lack of face-to-face and in-person interaction. The article stresses that lack of in-person interaction forces people to rely on stereotypes rather than break them. In "Toward a New Agenda", the topic of CTCs bringing people together in face-to-face activities is discussed. The article talks about face-to-face interactions as being mutually reinforcing and serve an important function of bringing people together and creating bridging social capital.

    Combining these two ideas from the articles, one can conclude that CTCs are valuable resources in bringing people together who might not have been previously connected and creating ties, as well as eliminating stereotypes and prejudices through in-person interactions.

  7. It is apparent that this article explains that although technology has the potential to break down social and SES barriers, these catergories combined with technlogy are now raising these barriers. It is therefore vital that public policy mirrors the problem, and a cold shoulder isn't turned to the problem of the digital divide. This is evident today in many areas, who see the problem as fixed, by looking at the statistics in a way that reflects that x amount of people have the internet and are well to do......we should instead flip these around and see that x amount of people don't have access, and if they do it is not sufficient, and a blanket fix all strategy should not be taken. This will help address the problem, and it is not one universal problem.....each area in the country is different so each area must be evaluated and fixed accordingly.