What Does it Mean to Bridge the Divide?: Learning from Spontaneous Practices towards ICTs

What Does it Mean to Bridge the Divide?: Learning from Spontaneous Practices towards ICTs

Suely Fragoso (Universidade do Vale do Rio do Sinos (Unisinos), Brazil), Denise Cogo (Universidade do Vale do Rio do Sinos (Unisinos), Brazil) and Liliane Dutra Brignol (Universidade do Vale do Rio do Sinos (Unisinos) & Centro Universitario Franciscano (Unifra), Brazil)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1852-7.ch081
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This chapter discusses the success and failure of initiatives which provide access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a means of promoting social inclusion. We believe that there is often a disparity between the supposed and the true needs and desires of the minority groups at the receiving end of digital divide initiatives. Observation of practices towards ICTs which are spontaneously developed by a minority group indicate that important achievements are being overlooked by formal evaluations of digital divide projects and policies. The observed practices are organized into six categories and a change of paradigm is proposed for further actions.
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A considerable part of the literature about the digital divide presents results and discusses outcomes of existing initiatives. Many such texts propose methods to increase the success of future actions. Some examples from different parts of the world include: the examination of a community-based ICT project in New Zealand by Crump & McIlroy (2003); Menou, Poepsel & Stoll’s review of the situation of community tele-centers in Latin America (2004); and Kumar’s considerations of the diffusion and use of tele-centers in rural India (2006).

Other authors propose new ways as a guide for future initiatives. Examples are the comparison of the availability and use of ICTs in Californian high schools by Warschauer, Knobel & Stone (2004); and Bieber, McFall, Rice & Gurstein’s proposal of a framework to help the design of community-based initiatives (2007).

A third approach questions whether it is possible to bridge the digital divide at all. This point of view focuses on the correlation between social inequality and technological exclusion by addressing the centrality of ICTs in contemporary life, but showing that it is not caused by ICTs. Thus actions to bridge the digital divide are topical remedies at best. “ICTs will not close the loopholes where investments in the education, labor and health sectors have gone awry” (West, 2006, Examining Information and Communication Technologies section, para. 9).

Those living in less dramatic conditions are not always able to take full advantage of the potential benefits of ICTs. For example, in recent years the Brazilian government, private entrepreneurs and NGOs have made considerable progress towards the dissemination of public internet access points, which doubled in number in 2007 (Bechara, 2008, p.47). The percentage of users accessing the internet in public points (49%) have surpassed those using home connections (40%) (CGI, 2008, p. 149). These positive results are challenged by Brazilian literacy indicators: in 2007, 7% of the Brazilian population were considered illiterate and more than 65% were sub-literate, that is, not able to understand and interpret longer written texts (Instituto Paulo Montenegro, 2007, p. 9). Further demographics of internet use in Brazil suggest that users of public access points are mostly young and with higher levels of education (CGI, 2008, p. 142). Many of these will be home internet users also. Because they have low speed home access or out-of-date equipment, they use public points to have better quality connections or to avoid the high cost of domestic connections, as has been reported by Barros (2008, p.8) and Lacerda (2008, p. 219-220, 246). Economic constraints are particularly important in countries where the price of hardware and software is higher and the average income is frequently lower (Gopal & Sanders, 2000).

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