Thursday, June 17, 2010

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.

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