Who is Being Left in The Dark?
Let's Get Academic for a Second
The digital divide is quite simply the gap in communication between those who are digitally connected and those who are not. The divide stems from many factors ranging from age, to geography and even those pesky corporate and political powers. However, the digital divide is not just about who doesn't have access; it's about who does, the messages they are receiving and who is sending them.
If we dive into Ronnie D. Lipschutz's 'two-way' media, using the Internet as the medium, we can start to see the cracks in the great divide. He argues that for those who are connected, it adds a great deal of power to grass roots type social activism (de Jong, Shaw, Stammers, 2005, p.24-25). Lipschutz writes, “these connections allow activist groups scattered all over the world to learn what others are doing, to observe and validate each other's actions and to disseminate the ethical bases for those actions”(p. 31). Suddenly the idea of a global civil society becomes less far-fetched because this medium allows the exchanging of values and ideas to create a global chain of events. Colin Sparks then writes “with the possible exception of the US, and a few small surviving communist regimes, media systems around the world are very open to foreign influences”(p. 34). Adding the sum of these parts means that with such powerful grass roots activism openly available there's no telling what political or social outcome there could be and on how large of a scale.
In a 2011 global internet study, the ITU of the United Nations found that “one-third of the world's population is online” meaning that the majority of the world is still out of touch with 'two-way' communication (the ability to communicate back and forth via a single source). When we look back at Lipschutz's and Sparks's concerns we see the cracks grow. If only the minority has power over the internet, what kind of impact will that have on the majority? And it gets worse. When the divide begins there is almost no slowing it down. Anyone alive for the last 20 years can attest to how quickly technology is advancing. So where does that leave two-thirds of the world? Research shows that it leaves 1.2 billion in the dark, without electricity (IEA 2011). That brings us back to the divide. While the 1/3 of the population who have access are quickly creating this 'global civil society'/'public sphere', 2/3 of the population are then left without representation, without a voice. And as we learn from Faye Ginsburg, those without access are often represented by those who “want to limit the circulation of particular ideas”, eventually creating what she calls a “facade of First World Illusions”(Wilson,Stewart,2008, p.288-289).
The digital divide exists and it is ever expanding. Leading me to wonder what will come of it. What voices are not being heard? What misinformation is being spread? What does the majority have to say? And who is really being left in the dark...?
Colin Sparks. "Media and the Global Public Sphere: An Evaluation Approach." Global Activism, Global Media. Ed. Wilma De. Jong, Martin Shaw, and Neil Stammers. London: Pluto, 2005. 34-49. Print.
"Energy Access Projections to 2030." WEO-2011 Special Excerpt “Energy for All: Financing Access for the Poor"International Energy Agency, 2011. Web.
Ginsburg, Faye. "Rethinking the Digital Age." Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. Ed. Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. 287-305. Print.
Lipschultz, Ronnie D. "Networks of Knowledge and Practice: Global Civil Society and Global Communications." Global Activism, Global Media. Ed. Wilma De. Jong, Martin Shaw, and Neil Stammers. London: Pluto, 2005. 17-33. Print.
World in 2011 ICT Facts and Figures. N.p.: ITU, 2011. PDF. http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2014/23.aspx#.U3V4x16o83Z
**Written by Alli Hirshfield, pre-MA. for Global Media and Social Advocacy taught by Janet de Merode at Fielding Graduate University, Summer 2014
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© 2014 Alli