Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Social Justice and the Digital Divide

As a technology enthusiast, I often lament over the high cost of the latest and greatest toys. That new smart phone? I want one. The next generation tool? Sign me up. The software that's the latest buzz? Gimme!

However, despite not using my financial resources to afford the latest tech, I can't say that I'm deprived. I own a lot of technology. Some would say I have an overabundance. I mean, does anyone really need to run three routers on their home network? Probably not, but I do.

Image: Madame Justice by
W4nderlust (via deviantART)
And here's why: I like to tinker with technology. I tell all my friends and family that if they've got a piece of technology that's old, broken, or outdated, that they should give it to me instead of throwing it out. I can resurrect technology and put it to use. At the very worst, I'll end up breaking something that's already broken or useless. So yeah, I do have a lot of technology, but most of it is old. Most of it cost me nothing, or very close to nothing. I can fix quite a lot of things, and I like to think I'm doing my part for the environment by extending a product's life cycle.

But what about those who aren't willing or able to fix something? Well, that's easy, right? Just buy new stuff. Things that are under warranty. That's what most people do, right?

Now think of people who struggle to put food on the table. 

Those who have to choose between an iPod or paying the rent. What are they supposed to do? Just go without? With the United Nations declaring that internet access is a fundamental human right, how can we justify the existence of the digital divide?

This leads me to consider the issue of social justice. I'm proud to say that I live in a society in which every citizen, no matter their income, has certain basic rights. The right to health care. The right to an income. The right to participate in government. We, as a society, place a premium on certain rights, to the point where we all agree to share the cost on behalf of those who can't otherwise afford it.

But what about technology? Is that a right? Do we value access to information? Sure, there are computers in public libraries, but is the process of signing up for a time slot at a nearby building to sit on a shared computer the same thing as carrying a record of the world's combined knowledge in your pocket? I would argue that no, it isn't. There is a portion of the population who are at a disadvantage in many areas of life. Access to information empowers the individual, and those people who are already at a disadvantage are getting left further behind.
The Digital Divide
From: 9th World Telecommunications/ICT Indicators Meeting

So how can we change this? 

I believe strongly and passionately that education is a vehicle for social change. We can change the way the world operates by teaching the citizens (and future citizens) that we value social justice and equality. We can narrow this gap. But we need to be the model for social justice. We need to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, and show the world and the students that we're educating what we believe, not perpetuating the status quo.

And I don't believe we need to take away from the "haves" in order to provide for the "have-nots." What we need to do is to think of creative solutions. Look for unique ways to solve the problem. Access to technology can be an issue, so let's find technology that's unused or underused and change the way it's being implemented. How many schools have classroom computers that sit idle most of the time? How many out-of-date computers are there in people's basements? How many drawers hide a smart phone or iPod touch that's still functional or can be easily repaired?

We need to look for solutions in new places. 

One place that I believe we can find solutions is in other problems. E-waste can provide technology, while at the same time preventing or delaying its eventual destiny of sitting in a landfill. If we are the teachers of critical thinking and creative problem solving, then we need to be critical of our current social practice, and think creatively about how to solve the problems inherent in the way things are currently done.

So the next time you see an advertisement for the latest piece of tech, and you think "Oooh! I want it!" please consider how your behaviour affects society. I know that things I do aren't always in the best interest of those how are least fortunate. I like to believe that much of what I do will benefit humanity. I share my thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. I try to think critically about what I do, and how my actions reflect what I believe. I'm not perfect, but I'm aware of my faults and I'm working on changing them.

Are you?