Digital divide: digital biographies

July 21, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Photo by KimNow here’s some interesting statistics: internet access and online social networks have given an advantage to 61% of the UK population – they can enjoy social interaction; access to job information and Government services; instant communication; and consumer empowerment. But 39% of the population are digitally excluded and therefore socially disadvantaged. The latest research into the so-called digital divide was commissioned by UK Online Centres and the research carried out by FreshMinds. The report is entitled Understanding Digital Inclusion, which you can download here from the UK Online Centre’s Reading Room.

When you consider the digital divide concept, there’s a tendency to think the older generations are the ones at a disadvantage and that when they die off, the world will be filled with younger cyber-savvy people. But the report highlights that 11% of 16 to 24 year olds are digitally excluded rather than included and that digital inequality is increasing and becoming more like a chasm. The report has also found that three in four people counted as socially excluded are also digitally excluded – a double whammy. So if you’re not employed, in poor health, live in social housing and are part of the lowest socio-economic strata, then you are part of the social and digital poor in the UK. But surprisingly, a good proportion of non-users of the Internet reside in connected households.

So digital exclusion is not just about access: it’s about capability and skills to use digital technologies; engagement with digital technologies; confidence and creativity to interact with digital technologies and be a self-sufficient user. It was somewhat trendy to utter the words “digital divide”, “information rich” and “information poor” in the 1990s, but seems these words might still serve as powerful metaphors in a world we thought was wired up.

At the other end of the spectrum, a piece in CBS News echoes comments I made in an earlier post about the MySpace and Facebook generation not being as concerned about privacy. Those who are digitally included are busy sharing their digital biographies and archiving their youth: revealing their secret thoughts, connecting with friends, uploading photos and videos.

But the digitally rich should spare a moment to think about how anyone can find out anything about you on the internet. We recently heard of Miss New Jersey being embarrassed by private photos that suddenly and inexplicably entered the public domain. While we are all busy building our online reputations and constructing our digital (often fictional) lives, employers are equally hard at work checking out social networking sites to see what your online activity reveals about you. What may have seemed fun to share with friends when you were 16 years old may come back to haunt you when you’re 25 years and seeking a top paying job. An 18 year old rather bravely said: “I feel that if I do those types of things, it reflects my personality, so I don’t care what’s put up on the Web…. because I am who I am and it reflects that. And if people have a problem with me, then I wouldn’t want to work with them or know them.”

And even if you’re careful about what you reveal or post online, we all run the risk of others talking about us on some social networking site somewhere. So the gateway into our personal lives and the information that can be trolled by a third party who then makes decisions about us is vast. I read recently of a college professor in North Carolina who scanned Facebook profiles to determine which students to accept into his class. And apparently getting fired by your employer for blog entries is so common now that it’s come to be characterised by the term “dooced.”

But the last laugh surely has to be with those who plan digital autobiographies for their funerals for future generations to watch. Touch screen computers allow a person or family to capture photos,videos and audio of themselves to be preserved. No worrying about past private indiscretions coming back to haunt you – just construct the life story you wish!

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Entry filed under: Digital biographies, Digital divide, Future trends, Privacy, Useful resources.

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