Thursday, June 17, 2010

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  For if the tree of a past identity in an outdated source of technology is cut down or uprooted, one’s identity will not die with it.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.

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