Monday, June 13, 2011

Notes From the Digital Divide

This just in from the San Francisco Business Times: Far from being a ‘digital democracy,’ the Internet is dominated by the opinions of rich, powerful people, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

UC Berkeley Campanile
The study notes that many early Internet champions, and people who pushed for universal broadband access, believed the Internet would give the poor and disenfranchised a voice. But, even though hot social media sites like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. are helping revolutionaries organize in the Middle East, and challenging the privacy of the politically powerful, as in the recent Weiner Roast, most of the influence online belongs to richer, better educated people.

“Having Internet access is not enough,” said Jen Schradie, a PhD candidate in sociology at U.C. Berkeley, who wrote the study. Schradie found that fewer than 10 percent of people in the United States are “participating in most online production activities.”

Rather than level the playing field, she found, “the digital divide for social media users is wider between the haves and have nots.”

Most blogs, websites and video-sharing sites are dominated by the opinions of people with college degrees, rather than the uneducated. “The working class is underrepresented on the Internet,” the study said.

Schradie’s study crunched data on 41,000 American adults and their online activity between 2000 and 2008.

In a recent Silicon Valley Watcher blog post Tom Foremski talks about new media and the joys of blogging:  "I am no longer sure if I am in control of my blog, or if the blog could also be described as controlling me."


Courtesy: pookienana.blogspot.com
 Foremski, who is a former Financial Times reporter and Silicon Valley observer, says this line jumped out at him as he read Irving Wladawsky-Berger's blog post: The Evolution of My Complex Relationship with Blogging

Foremski says "It's a great article about the many wonderful effects that regular blogging has on the person and their experience of themselves."

He notes that "these days the giddiness (of his own blogging) is long gone. These days the new media world seems pretty much the same as the old media world. The same big brands mass media is still there. And the "new media" such as GigaOM, VentureBeat, TechCrunch etc, look like the old media with the same editorial structures, formats, etc.

The army of "citizen journalists" that was going to challenge the old order never materialized, he says. And mass media still dominates the daily discourse. "Social media" seems mostly a place where people Tweet or share on Facebook, links to mass media sources - social media has become Social Distribution of Mass Media (SoDOMM). It's an official bit of terminology with its own acronym.

And the rest of social media is an ocean of simple clicks on "Likes" that recommend products and services — it's a mundane marketing channel for large brands. The promise of the "new media" in creating a new world of pioneering journalism; increasing transparency in government and commerce; and improving democracy and the quality of life, has largely disappeared or has been pushed into the sidelines.

Foremski laments: "Oh well. It was fun for a while. But I would do it again, and again, and again: because of all the incredible experiences and insights that this simple act of 'blogging' has delivered in such abundance."

I have to agree with Foremski. A year and a half into blogging and publishing the Word Garden, its still fun. I write whatever I want. I have a few loyal followers and many visitors from all over the world. I'm not rich and powerful and have very little influence. I don't know if my blogging efforts are headed anywhere, maybe it's just electronic navel gazing. I'm just a college-educated canary warbling for a few seeds. Thanks for filling the feed cup. I'll keep singing.

If you blog, read blogs, want to blog, leave a comment in the Word Garden on where you think the blogosphere is headed.