In a recent event where I was invited to debate about the need whether to foster the Information Society, I was shocked about some positions from both some of the speakers on the round table I participated in and the audience.
The starting point was: is there a need to foster the Information Society, or the Web 2.0 is a sufficient empowerer so there’s no reason to set up centralized strategies and policies?
One of the first arguments to come to debate can be summed up by “if people find no interest on the Internet, they will not use it, even if the infrastructures are ready and affordability is good enough”.Which I absolutely share: people like Lenhart (2000), Compaine (2001) or Parks Associates (2007) have already given evidence about this fact — this is, of course, especially relevant in developed countries, but it is also true in the poorest parts of them, so extrapolation to developing ones could be possible.
The next argument comes straightforward: we cannot force anyone to enter the Information Age. Again, I agree.
Disagreement comes with the next statement, primarily defended by the political representatives in the room: neither should we force anyone to enter the Information Age nor should we try to convince them to. Otherwise, we would be patronizing them, being paternalistic and acting like enlightened elites, and so on. We have to stop being cyberoptimists: people know better than anyone what their needs are,
if people just want to share their photos, the only thing we [the government] have to do is to offer [subsidized] Flickr courses for anyone.
The argument is: don’t trust the doctor, because he’s being an enlightened elite prescribing antibiotics for your infection (not trying to save your life); don’t trust anyone that tells you to fix your roof, because he’s being paternalistic and patronizing (not just giving advice against it collapsing with the next rain).
The evidence of the economic impact of ICTs is great and growing. And there is plenty of people out there doing research about the issue. Elites? Not at all: people (scholars, politicians and experts in general) whose job (they are paid for it) is to give advice i.e. on the consequences on the job market of being digitally literate… or illiterate. You can disagree on interpretations, but not on data.
Honestly, I think that, these days, the difference between cyberoptimists and cyberskeptics is tiny:
- Cyberoptimists will tell you that there’s plenty of evidence of the coming of age of the Information Society and that the potential possibilities are many
- Cyberskeptics will tell you that there’s no evidence of huge benefits of entering the Information Society, but will agree that there are huge losses of not doing it (i.e. you might not increase your productivity being digitally literate, but you’ll surely loose it if you’re not)
The rest of the story is about swindlers and cyberblind. Yours to choose.
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2008) “Surrending to foster the Information Society: cyberskeptics, cyberoptimists, swindlers and cyberblinds” In ICTlogy,
#54, March 2008. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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