What am I researching these days?

The Digital Divide in the Planetary Age

The pioneering work of Tim Berbers-Lee and the launch of a graphical browser created the impetus for a digital revolution. Given the exponential increase in size and power of online communities, it is safe to posit that the Internet is transforming the way people live, communicate, work, and assign meaning to their lives. Virtual identity, for example, is no longer a work of science fiction. It is indeed a reality in many parts of the planet.

To be sure, the term digital divide has become almost an instant sound bite. It has entered the lexicon of academics worldwide and one can hear it mentioned at cocktail parties by lay people in places like San Francisco. The notion of digital divide is not monolithic. While people label every disparity within the online paradigm as digital divide, it is a highly complex phenomenon that merits deep study.

Pippa Norris of Harvard University categorizes the digital divide into three distinct forms (in Platonic terms). In some ways, I tend to agree with her classification. According to Norris, the three aspects of the digital divide are as follows.

1.The global divide

2.The social divide

3.The democratic divide

The global divide refers to the accessibility condition of the Internet. In other words, there exists a divergence of access between the highly industrialized societies (e.g., North America, Europe, and Japan). This is of great concern to me and ought to be for others. I am in inquiry about ways of closing the gap of accessibility between the rich and the poor.

The social divide implies the ways in which the privileged citizens of a given nation are adding to their power and privileges, while their fellow citizens of lesser means are losing privilege and power. So, this dialectic of the powerful’s ascendance resulting in the powerless further downwardness must be addressed with rigor. This of course is less of a problem in the US than, say, in Brazil.

The democratic divide refers to the differences in digital communication practices around the globe. Who is reading or producing the latest gossip about Paris Hilton, and who is utilizing the Internet to engage the concerned citizens in dialogue about issues that impact lives. To what extent are citizens using the blogsphere to practice democracy in ways in which it could contribute to making a meaningful difference in peoples lives? Are people producing knowledge with the net or shallow thoughts that occupy the cyber net with digital refuse?

Web paradigms such as myspace, youtube and secondlife are popular social phenomena. These virtual worlds are containers of interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos internationally. Only four years old, myspace is currently the world’s sixth most popular English-language website and the sixth most popular website in any language, and the third most popular website in the US. Indeed, myspace is a social force that is influencing consciousness of Northerners, and looking to permeate theconsciousness of Southerners as well. This condition merits serious study. Are we moving closer to the age of all narciscism-consumerism, all the time? Or, will humanity use the Internet to evolve to a higher state of consciousness? Harvard, NYU, Pepperdine, and Stanford are only a few of many universities that have embraced secondlife as a platform for virtual classrooms. One of the major challenges to distance-learning paradigm is in fact the intrinsic distance. Will secondlife with its inviting cyberspace help to create more of a social learning entity out of distance-learning?