Cybersociology Magazine Issue Three: Digital Third Worlds
Andy Oram's Review of "Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age" by William C. Wresch.
I recommend William C. Wresch's "Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age" (Rutgers University Press, 1996, ISBN 0813523702) as a thoughtful
and comprehensive explanation of why poor and isolated communities
aren't getting the information they need to participate in modern
societies and economies. Many commentators have noted such technical
barriers as the cost of computers and the poor quality of telephone
lines. But this book goes much farther. It asks what information
is (there are many forms of information) and what people at different
socio-economic levels around the world need.
Wresch gives undeniable evidence of the many problems facing have-nots,
whether it be geographical distance, high costs, language differences,
or censorship. His statistics are helpful and his anecdotes memorable.
Sometimes he's a bit long-winded, but you should at least skim
each section in search of unexpected insights. I'll suggest just
a couple of his subtler topics to show the depth of his inquiry.
For instance, we think of information as objective facts that
can be packaged and transmitted, if people only choose to do so.
But much of the most important knowledge is gained subjectively.
Whom we know is often as important in getting a job as what we
know; that information arises only from personal interactions.
Furthermore, the schools that privileged people attend and the
mentors they find provide a head start in life that the residents
of an African village can never match no matter how many Internet
drops they get.
Those of us who are educated and wired find ourselves swarmed
by information, but are we getting the information we need? Prejudices
and financial needs drive what types of information are provided
by the media, even on the Internet. In addition to the open censorship
practiced in some cultures, topics can be suppressed or minimized
There's a lot to think about as you read this book. Information
is critical to survival in the modern world, but the struggle
to obtain it must surmount many obstacles in society and technology
Andy Oram ([email protected]) is moderator of the Cyber Rights mailing list for Computer Professionals
for Social Responsibility, and an editor at O'Reilly & Associates,
90 Sherman Street, Cambridge, MA 02140-3233. His personal website
contains two of his stories, "The Bug in the Seven Modules" and
"Code the Obscure" (http://www.oreilly.com/~andyo/)
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