Digital Divide and Social Change
Posted by Allison Fine on July 28, 2009
Much ado about the digital divide this week. It surprises me when it pops up once and again because the data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project has consistently indicated over the past five years that the divide, access to Internet-based technology, that has kept low-income people off line, is closing extraordinarily fast.
Those findings are in keeping with an article in the Times yesterday about the shrinking divide primarily because cell phones to access to the Internet by young African American and English speaking Hispanics. The article states:
The report found that nearly half of all African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics (the study did not include a Spanish-language option) were using mobile phones or other hand-held devices to surf the Web and send e-mail messages. By comparison, just 28 percent of white Americans reported ever going online using a mobile device.
But also yesterday, Andrew Sears, the Executive Director of TechMission, posted a passionate argument that the divide not only continues to exist but is perpetuated by institutional racism in the nonprofit sector by foundations and tech capacity builders. Andrew writes:
Addressing the digital divide and trying to help under-resourced communities is an extremely complex system. My assessment is that some of the largest efforts to address the digital divide by social entrepreneurs, including those at Google, may have unintentionally made matters worse among nonprofits.
There is a very interesting tension in the field of social change that becomes apparent when you see the difference between the fact that young people of color are naturally closing the digital divide and the fact that nonprofit organizations that serve them aren’t.
So, is the digital divide growing or shrinking as it relates to social change efforts?
I think the answer hinges on where you think social change comes from. In the pre-web 2.0 days I assumed that it came from organizations. Now, I don’t think so. Organizations are important, but they don’t lead change as much as follow it, particularly if they are adept at working in a networked way. So, who leads, the individuals with the power of an organization now in their palm with their cell phones. Look at the most dramatic instances of change this century anywhere in the world, Moldavia, Kuwait, Obama, Iraq (a work in progress), immigration marches, you will see a core network of passionate individuals supported by organizations, not the other way around.
In the cases when organizations are trying to lead change you get, well, our stalled health care reform (I’m a bit bitter about how all of the institutional players just left us passionate, smart, capable folks sitting on our couches while they went behind closed doors to get nothing done.)
Of course, these kinds of broad brush strokes about how change happens may be chimeric at best. But one thing is certain: although the divide does exist today, it won’t sometime in the future as these young people of color come of age clicking, friending, texting and surfing and organizations that can’t keep pace with them had better beware!
This entry was posted on July 28, 2009 at 7:51 am and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: Andrew Sears, Pew Internet and American Life Project, TechMission. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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