Economic Impact of Digital Media: Growing Nuance, Critique, and Direction for Education Research

Economic Impact of Digital Media: Growing Nuance, Critique, and Direction for Education Research

George L. Boggs (Florida State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8310-5.ch008
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Abstract

Digitization by computers, like steam power and internal combustion, is widely recognized as a pervasive, disruptive engine powering new ways of living and affecting all aspects of economic life. Research on its economic impact cannot be entirely disentangled from powerful cultural stories connecting technological, educational, and economic progress. As cracks appear in the narratives of constant progress through technology, science, civilization, and economic prosperity, research on the economic impact of digital media develops nuance. This review of literature examines a wide range of perspectives on the economic impact of digital media as a basis for suggesting areas of further research and implications for education, civic, engagement, and policy.
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Introduction

The breadth and depth of research on the economics of digital media point to a view shared across academic disciplines and governments that the production of machine-readable information is affecting how humans provide for their needs (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009); in other words, digital media is affecting the economy. “The economy” is often an opaque package of ideology, often exchanged without acknowledgement of which economy, whose economy, what parts matter, and why. The combination of ubiquity and lack of clarity in lay political and educational discourse about the economy complicates efforts to conduct and share research. Equally challenging is researching and discussing the set of materials, texts, and social practices that make up digital media. Assessing the relation between economies and digital media(s) often involves unpacking cultural myths or overarching stories linking the two.

Digitization by computers, like steam power and internal combustion, is widely recognized as a pervasive, disruptive engine powering new ways of living (Carlsson, 2004; McQuivey, 2013). Economic growth and, therefore, digital media access are routinely equated with national or global stability (e.g., European Commission, 2014; Yu, 2002). Economic prosperity is often absolutely linked to digital literacy (e.g., Graff, 1979, 2011). These master narratives answer research questions so forcefully that it can be difficult to imagine disconfirmation. However, as cracks appear in the narratives of constant progress through technology, science, civilization, and economic prosperity, research on the economic impact of digital media develops nuance. Under emerging conditions of economic research across numerous academic fields, poverty is less likely to be viewed as a condition of privation to be alleviated by the actions of fiscally and politically powerful groups. Digital media is less likely to be viewed as a static set of tools to be ‘rolled out’ for others to access. Large-scale formal governing bodies are less likely to be viewed as unproblematic benefactors of struggling villages, regions, and countries.

Powerful stories, old and new, continue to inform research and discussion of the economic impact of digital media. These stories express belief in or suspicion of intrinsic benefits of market economics, global commerce, and privatization. They consequently shape digital media education, policy, and research. As a result, readers approaching the topic of digital media and the economy are likely to encounter a fragmented array of studies verifying and contesting causal links between digital media phenomena and economic life (e.g., Atkinson & McKay, 2007; Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012). Projects offer heterogeneous policy recommendations and reports for governments, corporations, and development and educational organizations, whose fragmented missions call for concerted action to steer economic development through digital media education, access, and use.

In order to review the literature comprehensively, digital media is defined broadly to encompass broadband networks, the physically wired infrastructure that supports them, information and communication technologies (henceforth, ICTs) that they support, and the merging of social and economic life into these digital spaces.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Neocolonialism: A term referring pejoratively to the economic influence of capitalism, especially in the form of foreign investment and market expansion, on developing countries. Neocolonialism refers to new means (i.e., business, free trade) to reach familiar ends (i.e., exploitation of developing regions, political influence) without direct military force.

Knowledge Economy: A term denoting an economic shift toward knowledge as a chief commodity. A knowledge economy, unlike agriculture- or labor-intensive economies, places emphasis on expertise and other forms of human capital as opposed to material products. As nonrenewable resources dwindle, economic advantage shifts toward knowledge products—innovation and reorganization of existing frameworks.

Global North/South: Terms that denote the generic geographic, historical, economic, educational, and political division between North and South. North America, Europe, and developed parts of East Asia disproportionately control global resources. Disparities of wealth, housing, education, digital media access and numerous other factors underscore the power and privilege enjoyed by the Global North, while the Global South, home to the majority of natural resources and population, is excluded.

Digital Divide: A term patterned after ‘achievement gaps’ among demographic groups, digital divides refer to different outcomes for learning and economic participation based on access to information and communication technologies.

Literacy Myth: Coined by educational historian Harvey Graff, literacy myths fuse the ability to read and write with economic and even moral progress. Graff and others, such as Stuckey (1990) , argue that myths of economic progress through literacy obscure and oversimplify economic and political factors affecting prosperity, especially with regards to populations placed at risk because of race, socioeconomic status, and/or gender.

Digital Media: In contrast to analog media, which involve inscription with ink, carving, and the like, digital media use electronic switches to encode information. Programming involves arranging thousands of electronic switches to produce, receive, and exchange data. Digital media includes the physical hardware used in the encoding process, the digital “content” itself, and the mediating software.

Enclosure: A term in economic and agricultural history referring to the termination of shared rights (to land, especially) in favor of an owner, who subsequently uses a resource exclusively. The expansion of economic markets often involves changes in the way a natural or social resource is treated. Because digital spaces serve economic purposes, exchanges among users occurring there can involve economic enclosure. Social media provides numerous examples, in which creators of a networking site own and profit from the everyday communication of users.

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