cisler on Sat, 22 Jan 2000 17:49:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Davos and the digital divide

The term 'digital divide' is being used a lot here in the US to indicate a
gap in connectivity and access for a variety of groups (poor, ethnic,
disabled, old, rural)  and I think it will be on the agenda at the World
Economic Forum in Davos.  A friend of mine at a software company is working
on this part of the program.  We had a brief conversation, and then I wrote
the following which is aimed at corporate people trying to do something on
this issue.  President Clinton will be there, and I'm sure he's going to
mention it because it will be just after his U.S. state of the union
speech where it's one of the topics (next week).

Steve Cisler

Do's and Don't's about the Digital Divide

"There are some buzzwords that you should jump off of before they crash"
-Bob Johansen, Institute for the Future

DON'T assume everyone likes the phrase, digital divide. Some find it
demeaning, the equivalent of "He lives on the other side of the tracks."

DO look beyond the binary, either-or metaphor to understand the spectrum of
conditions in the United States. Some people  in Internet 2 projects are
connected at speeds much higher than the least congested cable modem
network, and others are dialing in through old rural phone lines that don't
go above 2400 bits per second. In between those extremes are millions of
people using  56 kb modems, wireless, DSL lines, and organizational LANs.

DON'T think this is a new problem. Disparities in access to technology
predate the Internet, the personal computer, television, radio, and
telegraph.  There have always been varying rates of adoption for anything

DO listen to people who have been working on these issues of access, of
inequity, of information literacy. You will discover a wealth of lessons,
of data, of compelling stories, and they will learn from you. The people
are online; they live in your town. They may even work for your company.
They are computer tutors, youth workers, librarians, artists, foundation
program officers, teachers, community activists, policy researchers, human
interface experts, and government employees.

DON'T forget that the people and groups that you want to help are the ones
who need to frame the problem and help with the solution. They are not just
grateful recipients of your largesse, your technical expertise, and your
time. They may see things very different from you, your community affairs
manager, or even a community worker.

DO consider that other gaps, other problems are tied closely to the
so-called digital divide. These include income levels, language, age,
education, ethnicity, physical ability, religion, and culture.

DON't assume that everyone offline wants a computer and an email address.
Some people have decided they have better ways of spending their time. Some
find the current crop of devices far too cumbersome and the services
available not relevant to their everyday lives and problems.

DO consider that the problems of connectivity and access of information and
communications technology (ICT) in the non-industrialized parts of the
world (and similar areas in the U.S.) are far less pressing than other
issues such as war, shelter, basic health, food. We know that the networks
can be brought to bear on some of these problems, but don't try and over
sell this as "Broadband universal access equals a cohesive healthy

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