Dear BI Career Consultants:
Does it make sense to talk about the “Digital Divide” in terms of inclusion instead of division?
Chief Information Officer
LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis, Tenn.
The change in terminology from “Digital Divide” to “digital inclusion” seems like a logical step forward. Inclusion would allow not only for the physical bridging of the Divide with wiring and hardware, but inclusion in broader societal realms as well, such as digital economy and e-learning. As I reflected more on the subject, I had a nagging feeling of suspicion. I began to see that while a change in terminology may be needed, we should be more careful of what terminology is used.
There have been several times in the history of African American struggle that the majority’s redefinition of terms has helped to lessen the impact of certain movements. Two of these examples also dealt with inclusion; one being the expansion of affirmative action and the other the change in curriculum focus from the addition of African American history to multiculturalism. While other groups certainly have a need to be included, many times they piggybacked on and diluted the issues of African Americans. The method for this dilution has often been the renaming or redefinition of terms. With this understanding of history, we should be sure that we use terms that will support our goals.
While inclusion seems like a wonderful goal to attain, the implication of inclusion is that the onus is placed upon the “haves” to include the “have-nots.” If African Americans are to be included, we must do what we can to make sure that it is on equal footing and not simply at the mercy of others.
We should take our technical cue from what is occurring in many cities around the country — the development of empowerment zones and community development organizations. Rather than requesting or expecting inclusion, we should work on empowerment and development. While development is happening in some places, our terminology must match our means or we end up playing someone else’s game. We must be claim-stakers on the digital frontier, not just relegating ourselves to be consumers, but making sure that we also take on the role of producers in this new economy.
Probably one of the most quoted studies of the Digital Divide, that done by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has already changed its subtitle terminology on its Falling Through the Net publications series. In1999 it was “Defining the Digital Divide.” In 2000, it was “Toward Digital Inclusion.”
Last year, Commerce Secretary [Norman] Mineta went on a national “Digital Inclusion” tour. So the term is already working its way into the technology lexicon. But before we as a community get too used to the term, we need to make sure that it properly defines our desired approach. Our goal is not just to be included in existing technical networks, but to create our own uses and mold the technology to fit our own priorities. We need to move from the “Digital Divide” to “digital development.”
Dr. J. Ervin Glover
Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics
Langston University, Langston, Okla.
Throughout the world, it is probably true that a readily identifiable group or class of people has easy access to the best or most sophisticated information technology that society has to offer. This may include, but is not limited to, the fastest or most advanced Internet service or the most powerful and trouble-free computers and computer operating systems, or any other training and support relevant to their educational progress and mobility. However, there is another, less fortunate group, that might not have easy access to these services. The line of identification, which allows for the characterization of these diverse groups, is what is commonly referred to as the “Digital Divide.”
This great gulf may tend to lead to an ominous struggle between rich and poor or between the informed and the noninformed over both the distribution of, and access to, knowledge.
Since we are living in the era of an information-based economy, many more new jobs will be related to computers. Those on the less fortunate side of the “Divide” will not only be negatively impacted in an economic sense, but there is also less opportunity to participate in politics, communications, education and training, or even some entertainment options.
Providing for easy access to information and fundamental tools of the digital economy is among the most important investments in people that a nation can make. In this sense, “inclusion” of all races and classes of people in this exciting dynamic is an important and noble strategic plan that bodes well for national interests.
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