Monday, May 11, 2009

Comparing "Understanding Digital Inequality"

This article overlaps quite a bit with van Dijk’s article, in which he discusses the four barriers to access. The “Understanding Digital Inequality” article states early on that “most governmental digital inequality initiatives have emphasized technology access,” and later states, “disadvantaged individuals still need to deal with psychological and material barriers.” Van Dijk would agree that more than just “material access” needs to be addressed and that “mental access” is an equally important barrier. According to the reading, lack of confidence “is one of the most important factors deterring the disadvantaged from accessing and using ICT.” The article also states that “technological complexity” or hard-to-use software is a significant barrier and that programs to increase ICT usage require “significant social support,” which van Dijk would call “skill access,” which is “caused by insufficient user-friendliness and inadequate education or social support.” Finally, the article claims that a higher education level enables the advantaged to “more readily access and comprehend information signals related to ICT innovations.” This is comparable to van Dijk’s instrumental (ability to operate the equipment), informational (ability to search or literacy), and strategic (using information for a purpose) digital skills. A more educated user is more likely to possess these skills or obtain them easily.

The articles we read early on stressed the importance of understanding a community to have the most relevant library services possible so that resources would not be wasted. This was particularly stressed in the “Branch Libraries” article, which explained the steps Chicago had taken to match services to the community. The “Understanding Digital Inequality” article emphasizes this too. “Unsuccessful projects results in a waste of valuable resources, which could discourage the government, residents, and other stakeholders from orchestrating similar initiatives in the future.” Therefore, like earlier articles have suggested it is necessary to “replace the typical generic policy that treats everyone as the same.” These articles also point out that when government takes on a large project to improve the lives of its citizens, it is showing that it takes the community seriously. In other words, building ICT’s shows that the “government is committed to their interests.” The article also encourages “partnerships between government and the private sector,” which is largely emphasized in the “Learning from Seattle” articles.

One of the findings of this article is that less educated people tend to use ICT’s for entertainment. This is consistent with the “Public Internet Access for Young Children in the Inner City” article’s findings. However, neither of the articles discourages this kind of behavior. Instead, the reading states that “recreational use of various kinds of technologies can have educational value.” It suggests that ICT’s should “infuse an educational element into such services so that the disadvantaged can develop useful skills, rather than just enjoying the technology.” Instead of discouraging play altogether, education should be mixed into ICT’s.

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