posted Apr 27, 2001

I Have a (Digital) Dream Digital Divide4/27/2001; 4:55:02 PM '"You don't want to reach a fatalistic attitude," said Henry Jenkins, director of comparative media studies at MIT, and co-organize the conference. "You have to hope for a utopian world. Martin Luther King held up the dream we have to frame for the digital population of the United States. '"We need a diverse cyberspace. Not a race-blind cyberspace."'Question for pondering: What is a "diverse" cyberspace? "Cyberspace" is easily as large as a nation, if you add up all the people in all the world connected to it. Does Switzerland need to be more diverse? I don't think one can rationally talk about "cyberspace" in this context, any more then we could seriously discuss "diversifying" Switzerland.The existance of sites catering to various races or cultures? Such sites already exist; they must not mean that.Shall we tag people with their race and perhaps gender in online environments, so people can see the "diversity" around them? Yep, that's stupid, I'm running out of ideas.How do you convert "We need a diverse cyberspace. Not a race-blind cyberspace." into a concrete action? When you boil it down, this entire article is essentially content free. It's really the same story as the music companies, or the movie companies: A story about people who have built lives around a social structure ("race" and "ethinicity" and "relations" between them, or scarcity economics as the case may be) that essentially does not exist in cyberspace, and are trying to drag the old stuctures in with them and impose them on an unwilling and uncooperative Internet."Race" and "ethnicity" exist everywhere, of course; nobody ceases to be human by going online. But the "relations" part naturally changes wildly, because the environment is totally different. So much of "race relations" is tied up in the physically interacting with people; I see your skin is differently colored and your clothes are strange, your accent and language is strange, you smell of foods I don't eat, so I leap to conclusions about you. That's not the whole story, of course, but that's where it all begins. Little of that exists online, so it should be no surprise that there are changes to "race relations" that render them virtually unrecognizable once the foundation of traditional race relations is removed.The concept of "diversity" as it is known at large universities is inextricably tied to the physical world, and getting "diverse" people physically together. If people want to ensure "diversity" online, they really need a more concrete idea of what "diversity online" means. If they force the old relationships into cyberspace, they are liable to do far more harm then good, just as the music companies want to do. Only this time it's not merely economic damage, people will be hurt.This is of course a seperate issue from getting disadvantaged people online, which is the only digital divide I believe truly exists... but then, that has little to do with race and more to do with economic status. The article, and the people with whom it deals, conflate these two issues... because the importance of getting the disadvantaged online is almost self-evident, while "preserving diversity" is nearly meaningless.


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