Introducing information and communication technologies into marginalised neighbourhoods : an exploration of the digital divide
This research explores the development of discourses of information society and the claims which have been made as to the transformative capacities of information and communication technologies (ICT) in particular. It explores the experiences of groups affiliated to two women's centres in the city of Salford, England. These centres, and associated groups, are situated within two economically disadvantaged areas which could be said to be peopled with "the information poor". The research argues that the enthusiasm with which technology has often been placed before such communities has been inspired by debates which have largely taken place at a high level of abstraction and generalisation and have not been grounded and connected to the needs of the residents of "real world", physically based localities. The importance of locality, of "situated knowledge", of networks built around trust and shared experience it suggests, have been largely disregarded and the global, the expert and disembodied community unconstrained by the limits imposed by place have been perceived as the most significant relationships in contemporary western societies. This has distorted perceptions of more traditional and locally-based, face-to-face interaction which has been considered limiting, insular and in many ways as looking backward rather than forward. From these perceptions have arisen a terminology which places responsibility for success or failure on the individual and the community (the digital underclass) and which suggests that a need for experts and professionals to enlighten and educate certain groups (the information poor) in order that they can be enabled and empowered in the new digital age. The research argues that this discourse, and the assumptions which lie behind it, have infused policy agendas around widening access to technology and informed many models which aim to introduce these technologies into such communities. The research concludes that there has been a disproportionate interest in technology and its powers to transform and a concomitant disregard of the human potential and abilities which enable technology to work and the personal and social relationships which will facilitate its use.