Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive for the 'Digital divide (developing countries)' Category | back to home

9 January 2004

David Wilcox “blogs here in detail”:http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2004/01/nonprofit_tech_.html about a research report from Jeremy Wyatt at a regeneration consultancy, “Hall Aitken”:http://www.hallaitken.co.uk/. It suggests UK Online centres should be less in libraries and more in community centres and integrated with the voluntary and community sector, but says nonetheless that they are largely successful in reaching those they target (disadvantaged people who wouldn’t have Internet access elsewhere).

By sheer coincidence on the same day I came across a paper by “Dr Neil Selwyn”:http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/selwyn/ in the September 2003 edition of the journal “Information, Communication & Society”:http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/1369118x.html – unfortunately not publicly accessible (unless you are an academic with a subscription – if so look “here”:http://www.ingenta.com/isis/searching/ExpandTOC/ingenta;jsessionid=3ok9ubgqnr53e.circus?issue=infobike://routledg/rics/2003/00000006/00000003&index=5)
The paper seems to be largely based on “a report Dr Selwyn did for BECTA”:http://www.becta.org.uk/page_documents/research/digidiv_selwyn.pdf in any case (which is publicly accessible).

Anyway here are some key findings:

…The survey data suggest that, in terms of people’s effective access to ICT, public access sites have a relatively slight profile when compared with household and wider family access – perceived to offer ready access to ICT by only a minority of respondents. Moreover, when the use of these public ICT sites is examined, there is little evidence of public ICT sites attracting those social groups who may otherwise be excluded or marginalized from the information age.”

Update:Jeremy Wyatt himself was good enough to comment on this post. He said:

“I can see where you have seen a contradiction in the two reports but actually they don’t conflict in any way. As as researcher you’ll forgive me for suggesting you read the whole of both reports…we actually quote the work Neil and his colleagues did in our report.

One of the thrusts of Neil’s report is that people don’t use public internet access points much. The thrust of ours is that UK online centres have helped to introduce the internet to many new users and helped many gain skills and confidence. Our report stresses the introduction and skills services. It does not confirm or deny that public internet access once you have these skills is a viable approach. It refers to Neil’s work to suggest that there is data to suggest the opposite.

But, and its a big but, things change fast in this field and maybe public internet access has a big future once its ubiquitous.”

Mea culpa! I don’t have time to go more into this at the moment but I do encourage people to read both reports. The Hall Aitken report is “here”:http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/programmeofresearch/index.cfm?type=5&keywordlist1=0&keywordlist2=0&keywordlist3=0&andor=or&keyword=CMF+funded+uk+online+centres&x=94&y=15.

Like Wyatt, Selwyn suggests that siting UK Online centres out of libraries, schools, colleges and museums would help and suggests

“another alternative strategy would be to develop a shift in emphasis away from community sites towards developing systems of community resources, which can then be loaned into people’s houses, thus building upon and augmenting people’s existing access to and use of ICT in friends’ and relatives’ houses.”

However he concludes pessimistically, “Although proving useful for those that use them, it appears likely that such sites will only ever fulfil a limited social role and are certainly not a panacea to the perceived inequalities of the information age.”

I share his pessimism because I feel not enough is being done to explain to disadvantaged people how what is on the Internet is relevant to their needs (and particularly not enough is done to encourage them to contribute themselves – which would help in turn to narrow the relevance gap).

I hope at least that the common recommendation of both reports – moving public access closer to where the public actually likes to hang out – will be listened to. To its credit the Office of the e-Envoy in its “annual report”:http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/assetRoot/04/00/60/69/04006069.pdf seems to be taking this on board to some extent. The Government is funding ‘get online’ initiatives with the voluntary and community sector and spending around £3m (not a lot admittedly!) through Culture Online to, “engage hard-to-reach audiences, encouraging them to discover the potential of new digital technologies (p. 11)

7 January 2004

Whether the weblogging ‘community’ is ‘fair’ or not depends on whether you look at opportunity or outcome. Not everyone has the opportunity to blog (this takes time and an internet connection) but as “Danah Boyd”:http://www.danah.org/ points out in a pair of recent postings about blogging and fairness the weblogging community looks even more unfair when you look at outcome – who is actually doing it.

In her first post on the subject she suggests out that propensity to blog seems to be “concentrated among straight white men”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/001400.html#001400 – in the “second”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/001402.html#001402 she suggests that just because the world of blogging is in principle open to all (or at least all with time and money to spare) and therefore fair (according to “Clay Shirky”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/06/joi_are_blogs_just.php) it doesn’t mean that the situation is necessarily right.

Clay appears to agree but suggests, ‘I can’t imagine a system that would right the obvious but hard to quantify injustice of the weblog world that wouldn’t also destroy its dynamism.’

Both he and Joi Ito, whose “posting”:http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/01/06/are_blogs_just.html sparked the discussion in the first place seem to suggest that if a solution were to be found it would be through changes to the software itself. I think the definition of the problem and its solution needs to be broader – a ‘technical solution’ to the problem of inequality of participation and outcome in weblogging is not likely because that problem is largely a reflection of inequalities in society itself.

[Update: Oops – it seems I missed a later “post by Clay”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/06/boyd_ahtisaari_and_butterfield_v_me_dont_bet_on_me.php in which he actually partly makes my point below himself, saying there is ‘equality of technological opportunity, but one heavily dependent on other, external factors.’]

My own evolving PhD project at the “LSE”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/aboutLSE/information.htm
will be looking at what kind of people do Internet self-publishing, why those people do it and what social effects this new capability is having (currently using Bourdieu’s work as a theoretical basis).

The main point that has been largely missing so far in the discussion I think is that the barriers to blogging or other self-publishing (in the developed world at least) are not solely (or even mainly) money and time but attitude. It takes a certain attitude to want to share your thoughts and experience in this way and many people who one might argue should contribute (poor and/or minority people for example) don’t because (among other things) it isn’t the kind of thing they would think of doing and nobody they know does it.

If one believes that it would be of benefit both to society and to the individual participants that the practice of weblogging were more widely distributed, making the tools cheaper and easier to use is a necessary but not sufficient step. The benefits of such activity would need to be demonstrated and promoted by and among people of those other communities.

P.S. Has anyone done a recent study of webloggers or personal home page creators that looks not just at age and sex but at education level, occupation, ethnicity or better still class?

P.P.S. There’s lots more on the question of whether we should worry mainly about inequality of opportunity or of outcome (when looking in this case at the economy) over at “Crooked Timber”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001040.html

25 December 2003

Here’s an uplifting idea for Christmas – Humanitarian Information for All. Some are intent on putting the world’s literature online (copyright permitting) – “Project Gutenberg”:http://promo.net/pg/ and the “million book project”:http://www.archive.org/texts/texts.php for example. Others like the “International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications”:http://www.inasp.org.uk/, “BioMedCentral”:http://www.biomedcentral.com/ and the “Public Library of Science”:http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org/ are attempting in various ways to make the latest in scientific (and particularly medical) research widely available.

The Humanitarian Information for All project has a simpler and more focused goal – ‘to provide all persons involved in development, well-being and basic needs, access to a complete library containing most solutions, know-how and ideas they need to tackle poverty and increase the human potential.’ At the moment because of the cost of Internet access to developing countries they are doing this by producing CD-ROMs. The total budget for the last four years has been around $200,000 – I hope that given the apparent usefulness of the project they get enough funding to complete it.
Thanks to Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka for the link

22 December 2003

David Wilcox posts a link to “twelve academic reports about technology and everyday life in Europe”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/EMTEL/plan.html recently published by the “European Media and Everyday Life Network”:http://www.emtel2.org/ and suggests given their usefulness that a user-friendly version should have been written. Indeed it should but one could argue that it is not necessarily the role of the academic to produce such a summary.

To some extent the complexity of the language does stem from the fact that the papers are aimed directly at an academic audience and only indirectly at the wider public (as “Prof Roger Silverstone”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/whosWho/rogerSilverstone.htm, one of the report’s authors, responded).

As far as I can make out there are four possible paths from academic research to policy:

  • paper -> policy (rare – as papers are usually not widely read or readable outside their intended audience)
  • paper -> journalist/writer -> policy (here is where hopefully someone like David Wilcox or myself might fit in)
  • paper -> academically-trained civil servant -> policy (does this happen often? I hope so, but lack evidence)
  • paper -> academics -> students who eventually become politicians/activists/journalists etc (the ‘mainstream’ way academic knowledge gets used – rather slow and indirect but, I hope, effective)

I would be curious to hear from my readers which road to academic policy influence is most effective and how academics with interest in policy could help the process along.

Getting back to these particular reports, many academic papers these days come with abstracts – a hundred words or so providing a summary of what the research has found – and often keywords as well, for integrating into databases. It is a shame that the ‘house style’ in this instance seems to be not to have such a summary. There are abstracts for the project reports but these are easy to overlook on the report web page and they are themselves several pages long.

David Wilcox’s observations point to a possible need for a second abstract for academic papers aimed at policy questions – one that tries to give the layman an idea of the paper’s findings without touching on the theoretical background- even if all that does is get the layman to ask an academic friend to take a look at it for them!

15 December 2003

A report in the Guardian says little new support was offered by the developing world to close the digital divide and suggests governments and NGOs didn’t really interact. Tellingly:

While the government leaders made their speeches in main auditorium, other people and organizations showcased their projects in a separate hall on the floor below… There was relatively little interaction, with government officials using their own entrances, restaurants, lounges and even toilets.

5 December 2003

The iGeneration includes some guest opinion pieces about the “World Summit on the Information Society”:http://www.itu.int/wsis/ , some basic facts and figures and some (generally rather upbeat, uncritical) case studies of ICT use in the developing world.

To take one example of their treatment of the significance of ICT use in the developing world, the BBC profiles a “Brazilian telecentre using Linux”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3250876.stm in a poor area of Sao Paulo with the stated aim of improving employability. Well:
1) users only get an hour a day – not much time to learn
2) I wonder how many of the users are using the connections to learn skills and how many are simply recreationally surfing or emailing
3) I wonder whether programming or software-using skills based on Linux are transferable to the commercial market in Brazil (possibly more so than elsewhere since the Brazilian government appears increasingly interested in promoting Linux use, but still a concern)
4) As “Steve Buckley”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3251024.stm hints at, I wonder whether the money spent on the telecentre might have better been spent on, say, a conventional literacy programme or some other intervention.

More money to close the digital divide would of course be welcome but not if it comes at the expense of other programmes…

30 November 2003

Mark Davies, the founder of BusyInternet, Ghana’s biggest cybercafe, told the BBC World Service’s latest “Go Digital”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsa/n5ctrl/progs/03/go_digital/24nov.ram programme that Yahoo had threatened to block all purchases to “Yahoo-hosted stores”:http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/index.php from Ghanaian or Nigerian addresses because of the widespread fraudulent use of credit cards from his cafe. To try to head off this problem, he simply blocked all shopping. It’s extraordinary that a major portal like Yahoo could consider redlining entire nations, and that the “solution” should be for a cybercafe to block all ecommerce – particularly in a country where cybercafes may represent the only accessible Internet connection with the outside world.

A search turned up an article in “Balancing Act”:http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/back/balancing-act_158.html from May this year with much more detail. According to the Yahoo security consultant:

The point is, 99.999% of purchases from Ghana are fraud. At least 99% of Yahoo stores don’t ship internationally anyway. Our fraud orders are up literally about 1000 percent over last year, almost all from Ghana. The cost to us in time and effort has reached the breaking point.

While it is certainly understandable why the move was threatened, imagine the furore if Yahoo had unilaterally threatened to block, say, all ecommerce from Portugal. This reveals how much unaccountable power these organizations have.

21 November 2003

Posted on behalf of Dorothea Kleine – please respond to her not to me!

Dear All,
we are PhD students interested in the potential the Internet holds for Development (capacity building, social capital, NGO networks, participation, e-governance, e-commerce, e-learning etc.). We realize this topic is very complex and that therefore from whatever angle you look at it, it helps to exchange ideas with colleagues who are looking at the same thing, but from a different perspective.

We would therefore like to initiate an interdisciplinary and intercollegiate working group on “Internet and Development”.

We are inviting graduate students (and possibly more senior researchers) from subjects as diverse as Development Studies, Media and Communications, Geography, Information Technology, Anthropology and Economics etc. from across colleges and universities in the London area to join.

One idea of a format would be to form a wider virtual network while meeting as a working group at the “Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research”:http://www.stanhopecentre.org/ in London every two weeks or monthly. The Centre is located at Marble Arch, just across the street from Hyde Park. There would be office space available and we can also book meeting rooms and a conference room free of charge.

Our first meeting for all that are interested will be held on *Thursday, December 4th* at the Stanhope Drinks Party, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at Stanhope Centre (Stanhope Place, nearest tube: Marble Arch). There we can get to know each other and discuss the format of our network, possible themes for conferences and ideas for research projects.

If you are planning to come, or interested in joining but not able to come that day, please email. We are very much looking forward to hearing from you!

4 September 2003

A BBC correspondent’s personal account of India’s digital divide.

27 August 2003

I just finished reading Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide by Mark Warschauer and I was bowled over. This is to my mind the academic text on this subject – I agree with him almost throughout. He wrote a Scientific American piece which summarised some of his thinking available in PDF form. You may also want to see this First Monday article for a more academic take.movies lesbian homemovies pussy lesbians lickingclit lick mybest list scene sex moviesmovies porn list micheals sean ofmovie little darlingslittle movie mermaidtheaters loews moviemovie documentary making amovie making a

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