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.

New Technology: A History of Adaptation and Resistance

"And now they were weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them." (The Grapes of Wrath page 97)

As I have written before, characters from The Grapes of Wrath such as Grandpa Joad who are unwilling or unable to adapt to the shifting conditions in technology inescapably prove to be powerless and unable to survive in the face of an ever shifting, technologically progressively-oriented world. In returning to the Digital Divide from a historical lens, as related to how past groups of humanity have dealt with novel advances in the technological sphere, let us consider the group known as the Luddites.

The Ludites were British artisans displaced from work by advances during the Industrial Revolution. They protested by banding together to destroy mechanized looms across the country during 1811-1812 in protest of the new technology which they saw as being a threat to their livelihoods. The movement resulted in a mass execution of the protestors by the government in York and exile of the rest. From their actions, we learn of the futility of struggling against advances in technology against otherwise universal acceptance. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joads realize this futility of pitting their labors against the hugely efficient tractor and see the need to adapt and move on in order to survive in a competitive world.

America During the 1930s – the Decade of Steinbeck’s publication of The Grapes of Wrath
At this point during the most widespread economic depression ever known to the US, President Franklin D. Roosevelt “mastered the new technology in his radio broadcast ‘fireside chats,’ which reassured a nervous nation. His administration created an alphabet soup of federal agencies all employing new technology to meet new social needs” (Joseph Millichap, "Steinbeck and Film", page 27). While the effects of those efforts remain contested, many such as Millichap agree that the president’s decisive investment in the latest technology had to offer during the doldrums of national stagnation resulted in the eventual economic turnaround.

Technological Dilemma within The Grapes of Wrath
When Joads (the main family of the novel) reach Weedpatch, a modern government-run camp for immigrants seeking employment in California (incidentally part of the Resettlement Administration Act of President Roosevelt’s New Deal), they encounter a problem common to those on the disadvantaged side of the Digital Divide today. They lack the knowledge of how to use new technology used by the camp appropriately. In the case of the novel, plumbing proves to be an issue for a sizeable number of campers that have never had access to running water before. One newly-arrived woman attempted to use a toilet as a washing machine and Ma Joad herself mistakenly washed her hands and face in the men’s lavatory (The Grapes of Wrath pages 311-314). In both cases, ignorance of convention resulted in inefficiency, misuse, and embarrassment which led to avoidance behavior. These issues were easily remedied by a brief demonstration and explanation by the camp council and contributed to a more efficiently run camp. This instance stresses again that access to technology alone is insufficient to overcoming the Digital Divide unless combined with as the know-how that comes of familiarity and/or instruction. As Chris Kocela argues,
In the end, the epistemological problem of how to bring about understanding still underlies the need to cross ontological borders, just as the migrant farmers must accept constant destruction of their individual, lived worlds in order to arrive at the set of social codes that will enable them to survive as a “people” in California. (“A Postmodern Steinbeck, or Rose of Sharon Meets Oedipa Maas” page 253)
Thus, regardless of the physical availability of a technology, the physiological border of ignorance can only be passed through obliterating outmoded, inaccurate conceptions of the past and reconstructing those conceptions on the other side of the divide with help from the native guides familiar with the new technological territory. Otherwise, immigrants risk maladjustment in the transition.  Likewise, we see the importance of computer literacy in today’s age of technology and the relevance of providing education in addition to access to today’s Digital Immigrants.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Choice and Eviction: The Aged and Divisions in New Media

As I mentioned previously , relationships between people and technology in the Grapes of Wrath mirrors contemporary issues of the Digital Divide today. In examining their parallels, we become more aware of the dynamics of adaptation to technology and are able to better realize solutions to helping people find their way through this changing world. One form of Digital Divide today exists particularly among the elderly (a concept I introduced in the second paragraph of my first post). Steinbeck nicely illustrates the elderly’s resistance mentality by means of Grampa’s Joad at the prospect of leaving.

“I ain’t sayin’ for you to stay,” said Grampa. “You go right on along. Me– I’m stayin’. . . This here’s my country. I b’long here. An’ I don’t give a [goshdarn] if they’s oranges an’ grapes crowdin’ a fella outa bed even. . .

They crowded near to him. Pa said, “You can’t, Grampa. This here lan’ is goin’ under the tractors . . . you’d starve.” (Steinbeck 114)

Grampa Joad in this passage depicts the quintessential attitude of many of the old towards transitioning – not only towards a new, potentially more provident land in the literal sense but – in the figurative sense towards the unfamiliar terrain of the unknown of new technology. Even in spite of the chance to engage in current technological activities with succulent prospects of metaphorical nourishment of social and educational connectivity, the aging members of society sometimes choose not to participate and remain in the shriveled up land of the pre-Internet abandoned by most everyone else given the choice. But it’s not necessarily because of a fierce loyalty to an obviously outdated and dying system as one might first be inclined to think. Rather, this reluctance to adapt has more to do with an irrational fear of the unknown and a fixation on the comfortable and familiar methods of the past despite dwindling sustainability as depicted in a study entitled “The Elderly Consumer and Adoption of Technologies.”

In an article from the Denver Post earlier this year, statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that an increasing number of the aged populace are making the move across the digital divide. “The most significant increase was with 70- to 75-year-olds, who went from 26 percent online in 2005 to 45 percent online in 2008. In the same years, [only] 10 percent more of [those] 73 years and older went online.” This data suggests that those of the older generation that have remained obstinate towards migrating into the digital age have, as a group, been dying out in the technologically archaic wasteland of the past that has since become the domain of the tractors of new media which have repossessed the land.

Grampa Joad ended up being literally bundled along into the technological vehicle of progress (ie. the new family car) by a concerned younger generation but ended up dying shortly after the journey began. Symbolically, the elderly become dead to technology when they resist its adoption. As digital media becomes essential to human interaction, those that remain stuck in a lifestyle of technological abstinence by choice become distanced from the world and risk being cut off. Therefore it’s up to the current generation of digital natives to help the older in the transition.

Already, innovations such as the Jitterbug are easing the process, but it’s important to continue to design new software that is more familiar and easier for elderly to use or else they risk losing out the knowledge and relationships which have become a central part of life in the digital age of exchange. Unless this happens, we risk losing them before they are really gone.
Yet when acceptance of technology becomes a matter of access instead of a matter of choice, the spectacle of Digital Divide changes substantially. And when the invitation to technology comes to those without but eager for access, complications ensue.  Watch for more on that to follow.

*Editor’s note: Sorry about having to scroll so much. I’ve tried to change the margins, but the rounded corners of the main-wrap stay their current size and cut a line straight down my blog when I preview the updated margins. It’s still readable, just rather an eyesore to look at. If anyone can explain how to adjust the corners so they match the wrapper, please do tell.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Investigational Reversion to Grapes of Wrath

Lately, as I’ve been researching the contemporary Digital Divide in relation to the technological/social issues in The Grapes of Wrath, I’ve been hard-pressed to figure out how to contribute to the wider academic conversation. On the one hand, I don’t want to be gratingly contrary to all of my research on the pros of Bridging the Digital Divide for the sake of having something unique to say in favor of the anti capitalistic morals of the novel. On the other hand, I’m just a little reluctant to promote the whole idea as being as hunky dory as the impression that pervades my secondary sources on the topic. I suppose the obvious solution is to make a compromise of sorts, but I wasn’t sure of what exactly until last time in my college English class at BYU, my professor Dr Burton made the useful suggestion to return to the primary text.

The Novel as a Mirror of Technology Issues Today
After skimming through the chapters of the Grapes of Wrath I thought relevant to the theme of Digital Divide, I was able to more clearly think out the link and make a connection with the Overseas Outsourcing aspect of Digital Divide. First, the Midwestern farmers were forced to leave their land by the bank because of too great a reliance on growing methods of bygone days and a loss in competitiveness with the more profitable farm technologies of tractors and dozers. Upon being replaced by technology, they invested in the technology of the automobile that had been available to the masses for a couple of decades previously but which they had never considered investing in until their circumstances necessitated adoption to adapt to the changing world.

Likewise, digital immigrants are compelled to use new technology as the vehicle to financial success in today’s employment environment where familiarity with new technologies has become mandatory to remaining employable across the globe as the Digital Divide narrows. Yet, ironically, the Joads (the main family of the Grapes of Wrath) found that their migration via the “technological vehicle to success” ultimately came to naught due to how far behind they were of everybody else who had already migrated thus suggesting a downside to digital globalization. Here the Depression era immigrants might be compared to the Indians overseas taking information technology jobs out of the US because of a willingness to work for much less than the local workforce.

Globalization of IT: Better Cooperative than Competative
To wrap up this post, here’s my thesis as it has evolved to this point: “In global efforts to close the Digital Divide, industrialized nations may be thought to be endangering their own workforce by opening up a future of potential overseas outsourcing. However, while globalization of communications technology makes for a more competitive world, the connections industrialized nations are establishing within developing nations has greater potential to foster a future of intercooperation for a more unified world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

An Overview

The Hub of Investigation
Thanks to the suggestions of Ben and Heather on my last post, I have been focusing on one aspect of The Grapes of Wrath and “researching the heck out of it.”

Discovering my Point
In the first place, finding what the heck I am arguing about has been a long convoluted journey starting from the day I began brainstorming and then kept on brainstorming the digital issues in The Grapes of Wrath. (See my postings for May). Technological issues involving the Internet are so very connected anyway that distinguishing among them is a bit of a challenge, yet I’m hoping to be able to explore this singular issue I’ve decided on in greater depth – especially considering I’ve got more of a thesis to go off of now.

So what is my Point?
The aspect I decided upon turned out to be the concept of a Digital Divide which essentially stipulates that a boundary exists in global society that divides those that are able to make practical use of the information and services available over the internet and those that are not. Many would argue that this divide has been narrowing in the past decade due to a wider availability and affordability, but still the issue arises that increased availability does not equal greater accessability. More people, especially in the developing regions of the world – may have the means to attain this technology but are unable to make use of it in ways to better their condition due to unfamiliarity with its various uses and applications.

Novelist of the 20th Century John Steinbeck makes an applicable point in his The Grapes of Wrath concerning disparities in class and communication that might symbolically be likened to the current problem of Digital Divide today in conveying the perspective of “digital immigrants” seeking to overcome the Digital Divide through the desperate journey of the Joads. Thus Steinbeck illustrates how the less technologically advanced parts of the world are set at disadvantage to the more modern, technologically savvy nations and implicitly argues that because humanity exists in the form of a global community, their plight is ours. In this digital age of widespread connectedness, understanding and being able to implement the practicalities of the internet has become paramount to being able to function within a global society.

How Steinbeck Relates
The major conflict in The Grapes of Wrath came about of the Joad family’s inability to sustain themselves or pay the rent for the parched farm their family had lived on for generations. Eventually, the capitalistic force of the Bank determines to evict them and their neighbors wallowing in the same predicament off the land in favor of the farm tractor technology which requires fewer people to do the same amount of work. So they are forced from their land by new technology because they could not compete with the force of technological progress.

What’s Coming Next
In my following posts, I anticipate investigating some of the questions of the Digital Divide in Relation to

1. A historical perspective: How people have adapted to technology before in the context of the novel and otherwise

2. The problem as it still exists

3. Recent efforts to bridge the divide today
4. A perspective on the Future

5. Concluding thoughts as to what this all means to us

So that’s the idea. As I make my posts, I’ll be linking my ideas back here to keep everything together.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Expository Beginnings

It's eerie, but the wordle cloud of my blog thus far accurately describes my state of mind with regards to my writing on this project.   All of these themes whirling around in this spinning conflagration of chaos, yet gravity is beginning to make some headway in pulling some of these larger concepts into place as my research influences its formation.
Foremost, there's the governing aspect of the Internet of course - which I'd approach from a capitalistic vs. communistic perspective in following with the major theme of Grapes of Wrath. Going along the lines of economic and social ramifications of these governments and their (r)evolving relationship in the Internet, I'm interested in the question of how communication technology shapes society.  Then there's the socio-cultural aspects to look into along with the idea of property rights and their influence on sense of online community interactions.

Now that it's all coming together, I think I'll be able to organize some quotes into this congealing idea tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Human/Intellectual Property Rights on the Web

In my previous posts I’ve brainstormed Stienbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in relation to Internet issues involving supply and demand of information, the evolution of the new media, and how groups can unite for social reform through means of media. This series of tangent thoughts has led me to examine the larger issue of intellectual property rights of the Internet.

But wait a minute. Didn’t I say in my last post that social activism was my main point? I did indeed. However, I’m now seeing that while these digital revolutionary movements have been the result, property rights have been the cause. It all gets back to the question of the human rights of use and ownership and the boundaries for containing those rights. So what are people exactly entitled to in terms of this digital age? Ownership of information? Certainly people deserve to be attributed acknowledgement at the least for their efforts and contributions to society, but do they really own what they publish as theirs?

 Once a conceptualized idea becomes public domain, does it really have an owner?

When the Joads were evicted from their farm in The Grapes of Wrath, it was because the bank had staked ownership on their land – much the way that Internet databases stake claim to their collective knowledge. Going along with a quote from Capitalism and the Internet: “Can the big corporations enclose the commons that is the Internet? If so, how? The jemmy they want to use to break in to the Internet commons is intellectual property law . . . they claim to own the software and won't let anyone else use it” (See Any comments?

I’m trying to get a hold of The Intellectual Property Renaissance in Cyberspace: Why Copyright Law Could Be Unimportant on the Internet by Eric Schlachter, but other ideas for sources to go to would be great too.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Global Activism through Cyber Media

Going back to my main point on the importance of social activism and the tool new media can have in that activism, I found an article from English Global Voices about a successful effort of the masses in Egypt coming together to combat poor living conditions by demanding the right to minimum wages.

The movement was nationwide and was propelled and unified particularly by a central website which chronicled the groups’ efforts, purpose, victories and strategies. All of this convalesced into a huge, coordinated strike on May 2nd that resulted in a court ruling fulfilling the peoples’ aims of a minimum wage compensation for all of its workers.

Contrast that with the ultimate failure of the sporadic strike efforts in The Grapes of Wrath, and you can see what impact communication in networked communities has on social movement impact. The migrants to California in the book all had a common goal of achieving a sustainable quality of life. What they lacked was the centralized communication necessary to organize and coordinate their efforts.

What drove the old farmers of the Dust Bowl era off their land was the development of the tractor – a development that forced the "exodusters" together in purpose even as it drove them from the land their lives had been grounded in before. Does this tractor signify the new media driving out those of the old media age? If so, it seems that the old media’s chance for survival rests in how well they integrate with the new. The Dust Bowl farmers were neither able to integrate into their new environment or unify in their efforts to combat its threat to their livelihood. The Egyptians did integrate in a unified effort against the threat. And collectively, their voices were heard and acknowledged. Any other effects of the old and/or new medias strike you at all in how well they enable/disable social cause?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Colonization of the Internet

Since my last post I’ve decided against promoting the idea that minorities lose their voice in new media. If anything, they’re able to get better organized and amplify their cause with new media. I would go that route, but I don’t see how that would relate to major groups in Grapes of Wrath – especially since the migrating farmers wouldn’t technically be considered a minority in the first place, seeing as they outnumbered the bosses. Might they be considered a minority in another sense? But even if that classification could be made, their unity in circumstance didn’t invoke any real change in their condition except perhaps for self-commiseration and empathy for their fellow man. So that makes me wonder what’s (online) networking good for except having that emotional/ideological support?

So, I’ve instead been researching more along the lines of how online communities/groups make an influence. Sometimes it seems they are ignored by the government in spite of efforts to rally and protest online (this going along well with the migrant workers' ineffective strike against their bosses in the Grapes of Wrath). I remember reading something along those lines involving George W. Bush in an eloquent rant published in January by political science professor Jodi Dean which I’m frankly a little apprehensive to cite.  But if I were to push against her argument, as my colleague Becca suggested in class, I’d be contradicting myself and really be putting myself in a pickle.

I was able to find a good paper called “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” which involves the psychology of society where the Internet resembles a conglomeration of the elemental human mind. The middle paragraph on page 7 reminds me of the clip Dr. Burton shared (Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us) and, getting back to the group mentality, how people can become their computer and feel naked and alone without it - just as the migrant workers would feel alone without each other when at first they were simply a bunch of individual families. Any thoughts? I really have been getting great input so far, but does anyone see any connections I'm missing?  Might the subject of Group Think be worth investigating?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Repercussions of the Digital Divide

Currently, I’m seeing a relationship between the open spaces of the nation in The Grapes of Wrath and the great expanses, or voids, of information between intermittent communities (ideologically as well as physically) – possibly in the Internet. I’m wondering, is space necessary? If so, how much?
Further, I’m thinking the Joad’s journey is reminiscent of the development of new communication medias in modern culture. For starters, the family had to leave their farm without having a lot of outside information to go off of – significant of the early days of one way web communication. Accordingly, that one source had incredible influence on the decision the family made of where to seek employment.

It seems Midwestern Tenant farmers’ only options was to accept the new media of that time - AKA the call to California – thus suggesting an essential need to adapt or become extinct if one wishes to survive the shift in society. Both of the grandparents died because, as much of the prospect of moving on to a new level of life excited them, they didn’t want to abandon familiar territory. For that matter, no one was too thrilled at the prospect, but there wasn’t anyone specific to shoot over it, just the ephemeral threat of the Bank. They didn’t have the means of resistance and so had to leave.

As they became better able to navigate the path toward bridging the gap between a figurative digital division with the rest of society, they began to establish networks with other families and found their greatest success in one small, government-run camp where everybody looked out for everybody else. The small group of a common interest contributed to their greatest contentment despite their being fenced in from the rest of the country.

Upon leaving this camp and finding jobs in California, supply and demand for workers (or contributors to the developing media) was so disproportionate that people were not being valued enough for their contributions; their efforts became obsolete as they were easily replaceable, so lots of people died – this is significant of potential consequences to new media being developed without a proper balance of sorts.

Still, everyone suffering from the same exploitation was able to unify into a universal family without barriers. Essentially, I want to promote new media as being good but with the cautionary note that an unregulated torrent of universal consciousness can drown out the interests of minorities. How’s that sound? What could I do to strengthen the stakes I’m arguing? Any suggestions for simplifications or need for clarification? Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summary of Digital Issues in Grapes of Wrath

One of the greatest themes in Grapes of Wrath pertains to the troubles of misleading information. The story revolves around the Joad family's struggle to make the move to California after being evicted from their tenant farm by the foreboding entity of the Bank during the Great Depression. They, and many hundred other families, had no idea of how or to whom to protest their deportment and so were compelled to find work elsewhere. Elsewhere advertised itself to be California in the form of fliers advertising jobs as produce pickers. Unfortunately, too many of these fliers circulating about the Midwest attracted much more people than positions that were available, and the huge influx of competitive workers reduced each family's pay to less than sustenance level.

I'm going to be drawing comparisons between problematic communications then and now and similar problems that we face in the digital age. I'm thinking currently that I will write along the lines of too much versus too little information and how a checks and balances system was and is necessary to regulate confusion that could lead (and seems to be leading) to a similar disaster unless something is changed. And then I'll introduce something about social obligation to share information as a potential solution. Does anyone have other ideas for problems or solutions to the "too much information" issue of the digital age?