Digital Divide, Data Trash, and the Commodification of Information: Discourses around the Digital Divide

Digital Divide, Data Trash, and the Commodification of Information: Discourses around the Digital Divide

Anusharani Sewchurran (University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1859-4.ch005
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In an attempt to build a theoretical framework for new media within the African context, this chapter considers terminology that routinely surface around ICTs. Terms such as knowledge economy, information poverty, the digital divide, information, knowledge and data though used interchangeably or roughly to mean similar things, they are laden with value, meaning and reflect power relations within a global and local context. Routinely used terms in a field create discourses which in turn reveal sociocultural, economic practices and power relations which reflect certain hegemonies. This chapter attempts to review some of the terms in the field of ICTs in order to make visible the sociocultural and economic power relations embedded in them. The digital divide offers a key entry point into ICT discourses and the opportunities and challenges presented by new media technology within the context of Africa. The theoretical concepts of the digital divide are reviewed within the larger context of global constructions of information wealth and information poverty.
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At its heart, development – if it is to be sustainable – must be a process that allows people to be their own agents of change: to act individually and collectively using their own ingenuity and accessing ideas, practices and knowledge in the search for ways to fulfil their potential. It requires what economist Amartya Sen calls ‘real freedoms’, the capacity for people to participate in a diverse range of decisions that affect them, and to enjoy specific functional aspects that constitute a healthy life…Enabling greater numbers of people to speak, engage and respond to one another is ultimately equipping them to take political responsibility, which is a key ingredient to establishing deep and sustainable change. (as cited by Warnock, Schoemaker & Wilson,2007, para. 4)

The heart of Sen’s definition of freedom is self-determination. This theme reverberated throughout South Africa in the early 1990s. Post-1994, the transition from South Africa’s apartheid past saw the hegemonic ideoscape1 laid down by the State through the Bill of Rights and the constitution. It assertively promotes an all-embracing historical redress that seeks to remedy the legacy of Apartheid, which systemized discrimination and disempowerment across all facets of society. This reparation was intended to permeate through a series of legislation (Polity, 2004).

While these Acts in part address the communications industry, there remains dissent as regards the depth and actual ‘transformation reach’ of the various Acts. The Black Economic Empowerment ICT Charter (final draft, 2004) has been one response to absences in legislation (ICT empowerment charter working group, 2004, pp. 20 – 25). The Charter follows on from The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, with the central objective being to “bridge the digital divide”.

The direct causes identified for the lack of development were numerous and complex. The lack of basic and supporting infrastructure resulted in a high cost of roll-out in rural areas. This has a knock on effect on the high cost of services in rural areas, which is complicated by ineffectual governance and regulation. This has led to the unfailing tendency of corporates to focus most on commercial rather than other clients (Gillwald, 2005, pp. 469 – 472).

The challenges identified by the ICT charter are lack of equity ownership, equity management and skills development2. Certain areas have been identified as having critical shortages in skills. Research has been identified as problematic as it is either duplicated or inadequate and incomplete. There has also been a lack of promoting open source platforms. Given the infrastructural problems cited above, rural access was indicated as an area needing growth in addition to the urban poor. Finally, there was emphasis on promoting fairness, transparency and consistency in adjudicating matters related to the ICT sector, ownership and control (ICT empowerment charter working group, 2004, pp. 20 – 25).

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