Challenging the digital divide: the role of telecenters in e-inclusion practices

Daniela de Carvalho Matielo presents a PhD seminar at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, UOC.

Challenging the digital divide: the role of telecenters in e-inclusion practices.

First, Daniela brings a short introduction to the concept of the Digital Divide as lack of access to ICTs.

Digital Inclusion is then the effort to guarantee everyone has access to the Information Society.

The problem is that there is not only one digital divide, but many: geographical, etc.

These efforts have, hence, many designs, from fiscal incentives to direct provision of Internet access from physical places: telecenters, places people can go to use telecommunication services. The main difference with a cyber cafe is profit — in the latter case — or bridging the digital divide — in the fomer case —.

Three moments of digital inclusion (according to Warschauer):

  • Device model: physical access
  • Connexion model: access to the Network
  • Literacy model: uses and contexts

A shift is now taking place towards a more social-aspects focused strategy:

  • What are the main competences to use the computer: digital literacy
  • What are the uses that certain communities can give to computers and the Internet: technology appropriation

But it seems that this shift has gone from “technological determinism” to “social determinism”, from an approach where technology would solve each and every problem (cyberoptimism) where just everything can be solved inside the “black box” of the community.

But, technologies are not neutral and the actor-network theory (ANT) can bring some light to the issue.

What do we have so far?

  • Official reports about telecenter use and users
  • Scientific studies, both qualitative and quantitative

“Community Informatics” is a field whose goal is to analyze the uses of ICTs in communities.

Research Questions / Hypotheses
  • Technology plays an important role. This role is usually neglected at higher levels.
  • There is a big differnetce between practice and goals in telecenters as stated in their official discourses

Following the ANT, there’s an interaction — chains of association — between users and technologies so, after passing through a “black box”, become from digital illiterate to literate, and from technologies to properly appropriated technologies.

The methodology to be used in this research will be, based on the ANT, do an ethnography in a telecenter to disclose the relationships of technology appropriation by users.

Comments

  • Several persons in the audience state that ANT might not be the best approach, as it takes for granted that there is a role performed by technologies, and a relationship technology-user, which is exactly what the research wants to find.
  • I state that this could be balanced (theory vs. practice, positivism vs. normativism) by balancing ANT with a participatory action research instead of performing an ethnography.
  • Somebody also points that it would be interesting to see how digital literacy (strictly personal) can be complemented with technology socialization, so a social framework is created through technology, so the digital literate can then interact “technologically” with others, and socialize.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2008) “Challenging the digital divide: the role of telecenters in e-inclusion practices” In ICTlogy, #54, March 2008. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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