PART FIVE: DivisionsHerbert Schiller, "Data Deprivation"
Schiller has been criticizing the "corporate" nature of the technology industries since back in the 1960's, when inequality and class warfare first became the buzzwords of our society. Though perhaps he comes off alarmist at times, he raises some valid points and the new divisions he sees emerging in 1996. There is a note about censorship in what he says--that even though there is a glut of information, the big corporate hands can guide and withhold and manipulate that information. It is disheartening to think that corporations make what is accessible to us (the masses) into something of a lower quality, or a strictly commercial nature. I notice this far too often in my Internet searches--sponsored links, advertisements masquerading as information, pay-per-use scholarly content, guerilla marketing, etc. While Schiller does sometimes sound a little radicalist, I think we all know even more today (10 years later) that big biz conglomerates have a dangerously concentrated and omnipresent degree of power.
He also distinguishes that the speed and force of inequality do vary from country to country. In America, for example, the stranglehold of a very few companies in communications and information is different from the rest of the world. Another good question for study: how did we get this way? The economy and commerce have always been hugely important in America, but when did it become beneficial for just a few to control so much? And of course, this raises the question about democracy of information and access to ideas, which is exactly what Schiller is trying to parse out... These days the government can't tell us what to think, but apparently AOL Time Warner can.Pippa Norris, "The Digital Divide"
The title sounds like a worn concept, but Pippa was apparently one of the first to really analyze it. Norris distinguishes, like any good sociologist, three separate divides: the social, the global, and the democratic. The global divide is among countries--wherein there are many differences in the ways in which these technologies are put to use on a country by country basis. I thought Norris's point about "whose voices do you hear around the globe"? Clearly, American-sounding words are resonating around the world. Poorer countries have no stake in something so seemingly egalitarian in its conception. There is no trickle down. They just aren't creating websites (duh!).
Does the Internet really reinforce each distinct country's political structure and nature? It seems to me (and probably most Internet scholars/theorists) that the Internet would supersede-- or at least change--the nature of each separate government. Norris's data proves otherwise.Christopher Lasch, "The Degradation of the Practical Arts"
Lasch's article has a much drier technical tone that is harder for the reader to wade through, or to get some main points from (too much quoting going on!)
The concept of technology as "ethically neutral," and determined by our own values in application was very interesting to me. Bringing the focus back to our uses in terms of technology will help to remind us all whether what we do or create or utilize is beneficial in a human sense. Lasch disagrees about this value-neurality, claiming that since technology influences social structures and class definitions directly it cannot be deemed impersonal. The technology was designed with these very changes in mind. For example, so much of what came out of the Industrial Revolution and the Post WWII period were machines designed to cut back and down on human labor. In doing so, they have revolutionized and restructured the workforce. Machines can do what humans can't and won't--well, most won't--but where does that leave these humans? An unemployed army? Outsourcing to robots is a dangerous but all too realistic image of the future.
This doesn't have to be the case, since Lasch says there is nothing inherent in technology and machines that should signal this degradation of the workforce. It will merely continue unchecked unless we choose (with policies?) to change it.