Although the debate on the digital divide has evolved from an analysis of access to skill, scholars have largely neglected the significance of inequalities in the high-tech labor force. Overlooking such discrepancies undercuts the practical application of such analyses; if the most technically skilled workers face eroding job security and dwindling wages, digital divide research is missing a key source of disparity among today’s workers. This chapter examines the latest developments in digital divide research and the high-tech labor market. The concluding section of this chapter discusses what steps workers are taking to close the digital labor force divide and how scholars and managers can meaningfully intervene. By leveraging their unique position as workers who manage other workers, managers can play an important role in creating more equitable working conditions for high-tech labor.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Community Informatics: The study and use of information and communication technologies to construct communities on and off-line.
High-Tech Labor: The segment of the workforce concentrated in high-tech industries such as computer software programming, testing, and manufacturing, as well as electrical engineering.
WashTech: Affiliated with the CWA (Communication Workers of America), the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers was founded in 1998 by two temporary Microsoft workers. Today, with 1,500 dues-paying members and 17,000 listserv members, the union represents high-tech workers on issues ranging from unpaid overtime to offshore outsourcing.
H-1B Visas: Ostensibly, H-1B visas are temporary work permits the federal government grants to highly skilled foreign workers to help U.S. companies fill jobs left vacant by a shortage of skilled U.S. workers. Employers, however, have used the program to drive down wages and facilitate offshoring.
Offshoring: The practice of outsourcing work to another company or subsidiary overseas, usually to a cheaper labor market.
Digital Divide: The gap in access to and skill in computer and Internet technology that sparked debate and research from the mid 1990s through today.
Technological Determinism: Theorizing social phenomena (including technological development) in ways that privilege technological variables while neglecting relevant non-technological ones.
Second Wave Digital Divide Research: In response to the access-focused first wave, second wave digital divide research focused on skill in using computer and Internet technologies.
First Wave Digital Divide Research: The first wave of digital divide research began in 1995 with the publication of the NTIA’s report on information “have-nots” in rural America (U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1995 AU39: The in-text citation "U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1995" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). First wave research focused on access to digital technology and argued that such access promised to empower users economically and politically.
Ideology: The sets of ideas that attempt to legitimize the political and economic power of elites.