Blog Post

The Conversation between Digital Divide and Social Media

Digital Divide literature and discourse surrounding it has been big in the field of Information and Communication for Development (ICT4D). The digital divide literature in and of itself has moved from focusing merely on access-based inequalities/divides to skills and usage-based divides (see van Dijk, 2006). There is a movement towards focusing on digital inclusion through the use of social media which in turn is expected to generate discussions about socio-cultural factors that have for long been the cause of digital divides (see Verdegem, 2011). In fact, there has been a talk about digital divide within social media usage called “social media divide” (Sullivan's post) where there are people who are able to leverage and use social media better than others even though both the groups might have the same quality of digital infrastructures.

It has so far been my perception (and please correct me if i am wrong) that within digital humanities, "digital divide" and "social media" often get discussed in different places. Often social media discussions move towards elaboration of the role of sharing in online communities, pros and cons of expertise, growth of prosumers, and ways to promote user-generated content in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter amongst others while conversations about digital divide continue to hark back to physical access related issues (i am not trying to suggest here that physical access to digital infrastructures is no longer a problem, but just that, it is one among many other problems). The above-mentioned articles/posts therefore for me are refreshing in the way they are trying to put digital divide and social media in a conversational space together. Quite recently, Neil Patel's article "Information Service or Online Community? Putting Peer-to-Peer in Social Media for Rural India" charts an integrationist path as he suggests that digital divide issues concerning access are still very much there but along with that it is also increasingly being felt that active sharing of content through participatory online communities will lead to richer interactions and production of valuable user-generated content for rural farmers among other groups. In my reading, Patel's paper suggests that the affordances and potentialities of digital technologies need to reaccessed and evaluated with attention to the particular cultural contexts and assemblages within which they unfold. For example, in the paper, Patel notes that it is key to take cognizance of the moderating and mediating role of grassroot NGOs and technology companies who provide access to information services to rural people (as well as are a significant presence in the same online communities that they help rural populations to participate in).

I am presently working on a couple of technoscience debates around implemetation of ICT4D projects and it would be wonderful (and very helpful)  to hear from HASTAC community bloggers about how they see the relation between digitial divide and social media play out within the scholarship in digital humanities.





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