Inclusion in the Network Society: the role of telecentres

The Xarxa Òmnia is the largest network of telecentres in Catalonia and one of the largest in whole Spain. The network was set up in 1999 and, since its conception, it has always had a strong community-focused aim which made of their telecentres — or Punt Òmnia [Òmnia Point] — more than just public Internet access points, but more tools of (e-)inclusion and community building.

Now that Xarxa Òmnia has turned 10 years old, the yearly rendez-vous of the whole network, the Jornada Òmnia, will focus on how should the network evolve in the coming years, taking into special account the changes that have been happening in the last 10 years in matters of the Information and the Network Society, and what are the challenges that policy makers and telecentre administrators will have to face to successfully fight the digital divide and the risks of (e-)exclusion.

I have been invited to introduce both these aspects. And my point has been already been made in the way that I write (e-)inclusion and (e-)exclusion: in my opinion, e-inclusion or e-exclusion will increasingly be a matter of inclusion/exclusion rather than being centre on the “e-“. Obvious as this might sound (i.e. inclusion being a matter of inclusion), the devil is in the details:

  • Real impact of ICTs will come — I believe — by them enabling, enhancing and empowering the analogue part of our lives: e-inclusion should be about ICTs finding ways to help people be part of a community, not about pouring people in the Internet (the “e-” focus of e-inclusion), notwithstanding a recurrent strategy in many Information Society policies;
  • People not online are, increasingly, people actively refusing to be online. While it is still true that many people don’t go online because of impossibility to access the Internet (hardware, connectivity, affordability, skills, etc.), we also find people that being able to access it, just don’t want to or even walk out of it. Lack of awareness, belief that ICTs bring nothing good to their lives, technophobia, etc. are keeping them disconnected and in risk not of e-exclusion but exclusion at all.

Thus, here’s my presentation:

Go to original site to see the slides:

The main points and rationale of my presentation are:

  • The Digital Revolution puts at stake the economy of scarcity (at least at the information and knowledge levels), brings down transaction costs and introduces a new actor into the equation: machines that substitute brain work (as other machines substituted muscle work in the Industrial Revolution)
  • The effect of these three aspects, puts at stake institutions? Do schools, firms, governments, the media or civic organizations still have a role in mediating between citizens? Or will citizens bypass them? What if they do? What if citizens themselves are bypassed by their peers?
  • If hierarchies and institutions give way to — or are deeply transformed by — networks, inclusion will be a matter of staying connected and being able to re-program oneself to be kept within the network.
  • New (digital) competences will be crucial for that, from technological literacy to e-awareness.
  • Thus, we might be needing to reframe our policies and foster pull strategies instead of pull strategies; we might also reconsider the role of our (e-)inclusion tools (telecentres amongst them), that might need shifting from the “e-” to the “inclusion”, strongly focussing on community building, enhanced by technologies.

This presentation is a wonderful occasion for me to gather up things I’ve been working on and thinking about in the last two years. In some way, it collects the reflections I already made in the following speeches (in chronological order):

I want to thank Cesk Gasulla, Noemí Espinosa, Marta Jové, Sònia Castro, Dolors Pedrós and the rest of the organizing committee for the invitation and the valuable chance to organize my reflections and think aloud in public. Moltes gràcies!