Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thoughts about academic blogging

For the most part, writing posts on an academic blog instead of a conventional research paper has been more fulfilling than I expected. On the one hand, blogging did necessitate a greater time investment than a typical paper would, as this was unfamiliar territory and required some independent study on technical and conventional nature of blogging, but I was surprised at the greater capability for expression blogging allowed in being able to draw from and link to external media sources which I could then use to flesh out and supplement my own arguments.

Writing a standard paper is more isolated which allows for more intense concentration, but I found in writing my blog and making suggestions on the blogs of other members of my 295 class and following their own developing ideas influenced the take I established on my own topic. I found myself incorporating strategies the others were using such as Becca’s descriptive headings, Audrey’s involved explanations, and Amanda’s way of beginning with a quote, and Krista’s way of taking developing a central metaphor from the primary text. I feel like I learned a lot from being able to share in such awesome people’s writing process and have no doubt that it’ll be valuable to return to this blog to retrace my writing process as my ideas have evolved over the weeks.

Pertaining to the BYU Institutional Objectives I think the blogging format really contributed to “extending the blessings of learning” to the online community at large. In sense, we have made available what we’ve learned in the writing process to anyone that might happen to google our subjects.  I think this blogging is the start of some lifelong learning for me as well as I have come to see the value in sharing in this process.

A Review of a Research Blog that Really Is "Really Something"

As one of the requirements for my English 295 class at BYU, I’ve been required to analyze a classmate’s blog with regards to the class’s Criteria for Analyzing Research Blogs.

What I Liked
After analyzing Ben’s blog I am happy to conclude that he did very well on a number of fronts especially on the first three points of Development, Focus, and Cohesion. He narrated the changing concept of his thesis very nicely throughout the course of his posts and was consistent in his organization and summarized the sources that he used efficiently as possible.

I was also impressed by the visual arrangement. The majority of postings had an intriguing picture leading into the subject and each of the titles were successively linked to the previous topic covered.

Post length was short enough to keep interest but long enough to cover the subject being discussed.

He asked provocative questions and got a lot of comments from outside sources, and I liked the overall laid-back layout and tone

My One Suggestion
The Analysis was more thought provoking more than conclusive which I think was a good way to go, but I guess I was looking for a little more relevance and application, but overall Ben did a phenomenal job of following the criteria as outlined.

Ben’s blog raises interesting questions and has great organization. All in all, it’s very informative, but casually done enough to feel like a conversation rather than a monologue. I’m sure many others would find it to be worth reading and commenting on and find his candid, yet thoughtful approach to be pleasantly engaging.

Reaching Out to an IT Expert

In an effort to contact the experts in the field of Information Literacy to get another view on my course of study, I wrote the following to Sheila Webber at the Department of Information Studies: the iSchool, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr. Webber,

I recently came across your blog while researching current issues involving the Digital Divide for my English course at Brigham Young University. On your post for June 14th, I found a link to a speech you gave on “Information Literacy for the 21st Century” in Prague last month and was interested particularly in your overview of IL in the workplace. You mentioned that the training of ambulance drivers requires a very hands-on approach and first hand experience to gain any real skill (pages 3-4). I was wondering if you could explain how this “hands-on training” relates to a world of digital education. Do you think Information technology simulations present a viable alternative to hands-on interaction? Any thoughts on the one laptop per child initiative in Africa?

I’d love to hear your take if you could manage a few minutes sometime but understand if your busy. In any case, I would like to express my admiration for your work.

Thank you for your time.

Concluding the Divide

Having come full round on the subject of Digital Divide from aspects of the past, present, and future with the overarching question of “Why does the overcoming the Digital Divide matter?” as illustrated by technological issues in The Grapes of Wrath mirroring Digital Age issues today, I realize that the phenomenon of societal development in relation to technology is not a clear cut issue. However, while I have emphasized the benefits of new technology in my ongoing discussion, I also believe that the risks of new technology merit mention. As Steinbeck posits in the novel,

Is a tractor bad? Is the power that turns the long furrows wrong? If this tractor were ours it would be good--not mine, but ours. If our tractor turned the long furrows of our land, it would be good. Not my land, but ours. We could love that tractor then as we have loved this land when it was ours. But this tractor does two things--it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this. (The Grapes of Wrath page 151)
Apparently, technology can be used for ill or for good, yet the determining factor depends on who is in control and to what ends they are motivated. More specifically, Information Technology is a power, not in and of itself, but because it presents a viable and competitive means by which an individual or group may accomplish their aims with greater efficiency through greater access to knowledge and ability to contribute to and influence the data pool that others access.

Undoubtedly I.T. has a lot of potential to drive humanity towards a more commutative and enlightened future, even though the process of reaching that level of progress can result in an arduous upheaval or displacement which “turns us off the land” like in The Grapes of Wrath.  Yet, the power of technology can work in favor of the common people as well as was the case in Egypt in a recent counterstrike against the minimum wage set by the government of which I blogged some time ago.

Risks from Evolving Medias
Interesting to note is that Steinbeck makes the progression of technology a point of warning in comparing the tractor of technology to a tank. Unless the digital natives of society take care to watch out and provide for the naivete of the digital immigrants, the natives risks doing harm to themselves in exploiting or disregarding the value the immigrants can potentially bring to the global exchange if properly educated. Therefore a responsibility lies on the industrial nations to help ease the developing nations transition into the digital age.

As of last month, computer literacy programs have been instated in Saudi Arabia for curbing their national unemployment. Contrast that with the One Laptop per Child initiative in Africa and consider to what extent these reforms best assist resolving the most pressing needs of the digital immigrants, and that is where the Digital Natives should invest their efforts.  Both are steps towards closing the Digital Divide, but those in charge of these movements need to constantly evaluate whether these reforms are really helping the collective “us” Steinbeck stresses or just the “we” on the privileged side of the Divide. Steinbeck is right. He showed us the “them” on the other side of the Divide in The Grapes of Wrath and the situations we may unknowingly cause. We must think about this. Technological unbalance is a pivotal issue, and local, national, and global relations depend on how the scales even out. A coordinated movement is necessary, but first the world needs to get online and get involved, and “we” are in the position to make “us” happen by supporting, participating, and investing, and organizing movements that enable this digital manifesto to occur.

A Shift Towards a Global Community

“How'll it be not to know what land's outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know - and know the willow tree's not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can't. The willow tree is you.” (The Grapes of Wrath page 89)

In making this statement, Steinbeck is saying that humanity needs to be in constant evolving motion rather than grounded in one limited metaphorical plot. This advice applies as well to the Digital Divide.  For if the tree of a past identity in an outdated source of technology is cut down or uprooted, one’s identity will not die with it. Identity is a substance that one carries in their person, and external changes to the old, familiar trees or landmarks that one is used to does not change that identity. Crossing the Digital Divide, in other words, does not decimate cultural and personal heritage but instead provides an opportunity to infuse the digital world with one’s own persona and ideology and learn greater appreciation for others’.

As those that have already migrated the Digital Divide have realized: “In information societies opinions are increasingly expressed and articulated with the help of the Internet and other new media. Hence material, usage, and skills access to new technologies is a contemporary expression of a fundamental human right.”

People have the right to information and the right to expression. New medias enable these rights in a way that is more unifying than divisive. In the beginning of the Internet, as my colleague Neal put forth in a comment he made a few weeks ago, the colonization of cyberspace is relatable to the American expansion into the Wild West. The migrants set off with a fear of the unknown and reluctance at leaving old and familiar landmarks and history behind. However, some individuals took the initiative to forge ahead in establishing their own society that was like the old, yet adapted to the far-reaching capabilities the Internet provides. The founder of the eBay cyber-community Pierre Omidyar was one such person.

According to "The Rhetoric of Economics: Exploring the Link Between Communication Technologies and Political Economies—eBay as a Symbolic Prototype of Digital Capitalism" by James W. Chesebro,

At a time when the Internet was endlessly compared to the Wild West, Omidyar wanted his corner of cyberspace to be a place where people made real connections with each other, and where a social contract prevailed. He wanted it to operate according to the moral values he subscribed to in his own life: that people are basically good, and given the chance to do right, they generally will. In the first year of AuctionWeb’s organization, Omidyar introduced innovations that would make his site in many ways the most genuine community in cyberspace.
Warren French, in his "Filmguide to 'The Grapes of Wrath'" sums up this idea of communal unity up best in stating, “As more and more people become dependent upon other people around the globe for voluntary exchanges, fewer and fewer will want to create a hostile atmosphere when part of their own livelihood depends upon relationships on the other side of the world. . . where their virtual friends live. People will want to beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks (S 456)” (French 53). Thus we see the potential of an interconnected world and the importance of conquering the Global Digital Divide by investing our sincerest of efforts to providing education and access for our neighboring nations that have yet to make the move. So much of the world’s problems come of fear which comes about of misunderstanding. Bridging the communication gap of the Digital Divide provides the key to facilitating a greater exchange which in turn has the potential to resolve widespread national and world conflicts. According to an article on problems of miscommunication, the ordeal of searching for work in The Grapes of Wrath,

Development requires effective communication if the people to be assisted are to respond positively and participate fully in the process. Effective development communication depends on the ability of the communicator to deliver a development message efficiently and on the receiver’s capacity to receive and understand the message in terms of his or her perceived development needs. (Developmental Communication: A Study of Two Beef Cattle Projects, Aselela Ravuvu page 179)
Resolution comes of honest and selfless communication. Through efforts to close the Digital Divide, industrial nations make friendships that can become reciprocatively beneficial in the larger, more distant scheme of things. Getting the world online is the first step. Enabling them to contribute is the second. Then, when the route to Global Communication opens both ways, they payoff will be big enough for everyone involved.

Modern Instances of Digital Divide

Every night a world created, complete with furniture—friends made and enemies established . . . Every night, relationships that make a world, established; and every morning the world torn down like a circus.
At first the families were timid in the building and tumbling worlds, but gradually the technique of building worlds became their technique. Then leaders emerged, then laws were made, then codes came into being. And as the worlds moved westward they were more complete and better furnished, for their builders were more experienced in building them. (Grapes of Wrath page 194)

This passage, through illustrating the journey of the migrant farmers displaced by the technology of the farm tractor in The Grapes of Wrath, reiterates the process by which people come to relate to and adapt within a new environment when driven out of familiar territory. This situation from the novel is applicable to the same situation digital immigrants must contend in the process of adapting to the continually changing cyberscape of Internet and new media technologies.

Like the migrating farmers of the 1930s, digital immigrants too must discover their relationship with the constantly changing environment in which they find themselves. At first, the alien unpredictability surroundings causes voyagers to proceed with caution in crossing the transient new land. Then, as the nomads of these spaces become more adept at identifying patterns, they are better able to set up and settle into temporary outposts as the process of constant movement and change becomes routine and confidence in adaptation improves.

The Record Label Evolution
My English professor, Dr. Gideon Burton, suggested that song artists of the entertainment industry have found themselves caught in the transverse between the swiftly changing lands of the music industry over the course of the Digital evolution as their way of selling music has been displaced by technology of the Internet. Many popular recording artists have, within the past decade, been compelled to bridge the growing Digital Divide between the technologies of CD and MP3 in order to remain in business. Additionally, many have had to deal with copyrighted music leaking onto the Internet.

Still, according to a study called “MP3s Are Killing Home Taping: The Rise of Internet Distribution and Its Challenge to the Major Label Music Monopoly” Wilco business manager Tony Margherita considers that music leaking onto the Internet is “like the sun coming up” in the sense that “It’s an inevitable thing and not something we ever percieve as a problem” (Devenish 524). In essence, musicians have to alter their revenue strategies over time just as surely as a people must work their lives around the forces of nature. Both arise as the simple, yet unavoidable facts of life. To disregard such facts is to inconvenience oneself in the long run.

In expressing similar sentiments, co-founder of the Future of Music Coalition Brian Zisk explains that “What we find historically, is that the folks who do best are those who embrace the new technologies . . . Radio was also supposed to ruin the recording industry” (524 Devenish). Instead, radio expedited the development of the recording industry because of providing mass culture greater access.

Today, several bands including Radiohead post their music for free on their websites in order to attract listeners to concerts which is where they make their greatest earning dividends. The moral of this story to modern society is that change is constant, change is incontestable, but as long as the people continue on this journey of change, they survive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Internet Governance Forum 2010 and Another Digital Divide

Thanks to InterLibrary loan via BYU, I was able to attain a document called “Internet Governance and Development: Another Digital Divide?” and establish a clearer link between the role of government and its role in bridging digital discrepancies over the world which ties in nicely to the quickly approaching convention of the Internet Governance Forum which will be held this coming August, the third through the fifth, in the city of Quito, Ecuador.

The IGF continues an ongoing discussion involving the Digital Divide and means of bridging national and international discrepancies in technology from present and future scenarios. The following clip from YouTube showcases highlights the conference in 2005, of which the first few minutes give a good synopsis.

However, after having read the article on Government and Digital Divide, I was concerned to realize an inherent danger of such a convention. According to the article:

[T]he summit reached out far less successfully to the wider development community than many had expected. . . Very few delegations included substantial participation from the mainstream development community (from ministries of finance, health, education, etc.), or even from the ‘new’ communications industry (mobile operators, Internet service providers, firms engaged in software development, etc.). Civil society participation also came predominantly from organisations with ICT sector or information/human rights perspectives, with very little presence from mainstream development NGOs. . .This mismatch of aspirations – another ‘digital divide’, in truth – reflects a lack of common understanding of objectives, potentialities and processes between ICT and development communities (Information Polity, volume 12, [2007], David Souter, page 30-31).

Therefore it seems that the host of individuals marketing this campaign are so far personally removed from having firsthand experience with the issue that they cannot accurately relate with those to whom it is more relevant to life. This in itself promotes the risk of a highly abstract government in keeping in mind the most pressing concerns of its people, despite good intentions, especially in light of impersonal interaction of the Internet. This distant, unrelatable entity of the IGF represents a further form of digital division among the masses and its leadership and implies that a tense relationship between the layman and politicians may be heightened by international conferences in which they are not among the active participants.

For more information on this years IGF, additional coverage may be found at their current website.