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Digital Dead End

Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age

Virginia Eubanks
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Digital Dead End
    Book Description:

    The idea that technology will pave the road to prosperity has been promoted through both boom and bust. Today we are told that universal broadband access, high-tech jobs, and cutting-edge science will pull us out of our current economic downturn and move us toward social and economic equality. In Digital Dead End, Virginia Eubanks argues that to believe this is to engage in a kind of magical thinking: a technological utopia will come about simply because we want it to. This vision of the miraculous power of high-tech development is driven by flawed assumptions about race, class, and gender. The realities of the information age are more complicated, particularly for poor and working-class women and families. For them, information technology can be both a tool of liberation and a means of oppression.But despite the inequities of the high-tech global economy, optimism and innovation flourished when Eubanks worked with a community of resourceful women living at her local YWCA. Eubanks describes a new approach to creating a broadly inclusive and empowering "technology for people," popular technology, which entails shifting the focus from teaching technical skill to nurturing critical technological citizenship, building resources for learning, and fostering social movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29529-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    In his first address to Congress, in February 2009, President Barack H. Obama called on the redemptive power of science and technology to help pull the nation out of its deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Even before his inauguration, in a January 15 summary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Committee on Appropriations argued forcefully, “We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, creating jobs in cutting-edge technologies, and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in the global economy” (Obey and Committee on Appropriations 2009)....

  6. 1 Four Beginnings
    (pp. 1-22)

    I was born in Dallas, Texas, and brought up in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, an almost entirely white, middle-class suburb of New York City. Growing up, my experience of the wider world was pretty limited, but my mother, despite her attempts to downplay her working-class East Texas roots in the context of my dad’s more patrician banking family, had a strong sense of social justice, equity, and fairness. One of her favorite stories about me concerns an incident that occurred when she was driving me to preschool in Austin, Texas. It was 1976. I was four, and she had recently become...

  7. 2 The Real World of Information Technology
    (pp. 23-34)

    This is not a book about the digital divide. The relationship between inequality and information technology (IT) is far more complex than any picture portraying “haves” and “have-nots” can represent. Working toward an information age that protects human rights and acknowledges human dignity is far more difficult than strategies centered on access and technology distribution allow. One piece of the high-tech equity puzzle that is generally overlooked when we try to imagine “technology for people” is the relationship among technology, citizenship, and social justice. This is unfortunate, as our notions of governance, identity, and political demand making are deeply influenced...

  8. 3 Trapped in the Digital Divide
    (pp. 35-48)

    To understand the analysis offered by women in the YWCA community, and to imagine new possibilities for high-tech equity, we must release our stubborn attachment to the digital divide. The phrase “digital divide” was coined in 1996 by Lloyd Morrisett, a founder of the Children’s Television Workshop and president of the Markle Foundation, to describe the chasm that purportedly separates information technology (IT) haves from havenots in U.S. society.¹ The phrase first captured media and public attention in the late 1990s, when the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released two reports,Falling Through the Net II: New Data...

  9. 4 Drowning in the Sink-or-Swim Economy
    (pp. 49-80)

    Women in the YWCA community’s call to attend to oppression and power while exploring the relationship between technology and inequality became an antidote to magical thinking and a touchstone for the research and action that followed. Shifting from distributional and individual understandings of high-tech inequity to structural analysis of the information age forced us to reconsider many accepted truths. One of the first assumptions we called into question was the ability of the information economy to lift all boats while delivering regional economic growth and revitalizing cities.

    In the early 2000s, Troy underwent a speculative growth spurt when municipal, educational,...

  10. 5 Technologies of Citizenship
    (pp. 81-98)

    Seeking social and economic justice in an information age is not as easy as “a computer in every pot.” Though access-based strategies like community technology centers are an important part of the high-tech equity agenda, the distributive paradigm has radically constrained the kinds of social and economic justice problems we are able to recognize and address. Because our understanding of the problem is so myopic, our universe of possible solutions and strategies for change is incomplete and restricted. One area that has been badly underexplored is the relationship among technology, the state, and citizenship. One of the most surprising insights...

  11. 6 Popular Technology
    (pp. 99-128)

    The stories women in the YWCA community tell about their experiences in the information age can be disheartening. Based on the first half of this book, it would be easy to dismiss information technology (IT) as just one more thing that disadvantages people struggling to meet their basic needs in the United States, and indeed across the world. I hope instead that I have begun to explain the critical ambivalence women in the YWCA community have about the information age and to reframe this ambivalence as an opportunity and a resource rather than a barrier. The second half of the...

  12. 7 Cognitive Justice and Critical Technological Citizenship
    (pp. 129-152)

    Many scholars and policymakers view participatory democracy as nice in theory but implausible in practice. But broad-based and meaningful participation in the decisions that affect our lives creates important overall benefits, both for individual participants and for democratic society (Polletta 2002). Participatory decision making creates solidarity, provides a primordial soup of diverse ideas and experiences from which innovation arises, teaches participants about politics by engaging them in politics, sustains commitments to social change, and provides personal, social, and material support for those commitments. WYMSM provided the base from which all other projects—the Hunger Awareness Day Event, the Women’s Economic...

  13. Conclusion: A High-Tech Equity Agenda
    (pp. 153-170)

    The information age behaves less like Noah’s flood, washing away the evils of industrial capitalism and leaving behind a playing field that is clean, smooth, and level, and more like Hurricane Katrina. Katrina revealed, with great violence and human suffering, the desperate inequalities that underlie American society, inequalities sedimented over decades through bad policy, human indifference, and oppressive institutions. That the blinders of the privileged were only temporarily torn away during the Gulf Coast catastrophe should remind us that the work of social justice must be conscious, daily, personal and collective work. It is ongoing, terrifying, glorious, immense. It takes...

  14. Appendix A: Research Methodology
    (pp. 171-180)
  15. Appendix B: WYMSM Sample Agendas
    (pp. 181-192)
  16. Appendix C: Popular Technology Sample Exercises
    (pp. 193-214)
  17. Appendix D: Popular Technology Projects Undertaken at the YWCA of Troy-Cohoes
    (pp. 215-218)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 219-238)
  19. References
    (pp. 239-258)
  20. Index
    (pp. 259-266)