High Technology and Low-Income Communities: Prospects for the Positive Use of Advanced Information Technology
||Author: Donald A. Schön, Bish Sanyal, William J. Mitchell|
List Price: $35.00
Our Price: Click to see the latest and low price
Publisher: MIT Press (16 October, 1998)
Sales Rank: 123,535
Average Customer Rating: 3 out of 5
Customer ReviewsRating: 3 out of 5
Good compilation of articles from many different view points
High Technology and Low-Income Communities Prospects for the positive Use of Advanced Information Technology
This book is a good compilation of articles by people from many different fields with a common goal- that is "to answer two basic questions:
1) How will information technology (and the changes that it brings about in all spheres of life) affect the low-income communities ?
2) How can we (including the low-income communities) influence the outcome ? "
The book is aimed towards "proving a synthesis between the academician's theoretical and formal knowledge with practice-based, fine-grained wisdom of the activists, to generate innovative policy suggestions."
It begins with a general "examination of the various issues in their socio-technical, economical and historical contexts", sometimes in an intuitive and futuristic way and sometimes through a complete statistical analysis of existing data. The general tone in this respect swings from major 'technology enthusiasm to complete skepticism', and then on to a more balanced view. This view does not see the technology as a whole-soul saviour, but more as a medium to change; since physical world and the electronic world are not separate, but actually "inter-twined and can substitute or complement one another as per requirements, circumstances and contexts." It emphasizes one fact time and again, which is becoming clearer every passing day, and that is, that on its own poverty and technology complete a vicious cycle (not today but since ever!), where due to poverty people face low exposure to technology and its benefits; and low access to technology leads to further downward mobility. It prophecises that the way out is not in one single hand, but more in different agencies working together hand in hand (including the government and the low-income communities themselves).
The next part of the book, which is also the core of the book, presents a style of policy-making (rather than the finished blueprint) for what can be done to improve the present situation, along with some good examples from the real-life. It addresses many interesting issues related to low-income communities such as:
- The high cost of connection and 'appliances' to connect to the world versus the real need. - The vicious cycle between low networking in low-income communities and low number of users from these areas on the net. - Need for appropriate software and interface, which is easy and attractive to use. - Need to promote new technologies in ways that enable people to become not just 'passive consumers' but 'active producers', as well as to aid entrepreneurship in these areas (to aid economic development which in the longer run can affect the whole community as well). - Need for using technology to create transparency between public agencies and low-income neighbourhoods. - Need for applying the computer and the IT to aid better dialogue between the community especially through the concept of 'community computer'. Also to see Internet as a big canvas which can be extended by contributions from every individual of the community. - Need to include the low-income communities as well, for structuring and designing things and policies for their own development. - Need to provide skills and motivation to the people of the community, so that they find it worth to invest their time and effort into the whole process of change. - Need to create a distinction between 'knowledge' and 'information', especially in reference to policy-making and community programs. - Need to develop a totally new approach to education aimed especially at the people who grow-up in low-income neighbourhoods.
The main emphasis of the book is on the last issue, which receives a common consensus from all the authors. There is a general opinion that education is the main tool through which something can be done to elevate the 'digital divide'. It needs to include not only the children of the community but the parents as well, since education really starts from home and a lot of boost for learning needs to come from home as well. It must also be introduced into the prisons where a good part of the community (especially in reference to American low-income neighbourhoods) spends their time. The present state of education in all the schools which cater to these children seems to be extremely poor, not just in terms of equipment but also in terms of teachers and teaching methodology, as well as in the course content which is most often very bland and sterile. New system needs to be developed where the computer can be used for its educational capabilities since technology in itself is meaningless unless designed for an application. Since it is usually seen that people who grow up in poverty, unstable and unpredictable world are most often virtuosos at building and fixing complicated things but tend to score very low when dealing with conventional symbolic expressions like numbers, graphs, simple calculations and written language, there is a need to make them learn more through extracting principles from the successful workings of the objects that they make. At this point the computer comes into picture, since it can be a very good medium to link symbols with actions since symbolic descriptions in a computer can turn into an action or an object immediately. This way it can be used to teach and enstrengthen existing concepts. It can play a very special role as a resource for inquiry and invention at the child's 'own pace' and in his 'own space'. This also looks into the aspect of special needs of some children whose life is already moving at a very fast pace and who hence need to slow-down a bit in their own learning process.
The last part of the book presents a synthesis of various topics. It discusses the prospects and problems of initiatives aimed at elevating the poor with the help of new technologies. Also it offers a few suggestions for policy making at various levels, such that they can be more effective. It acknowledges the big gap, which still exists between the academics and the activists, but also extracts "the common points of agreement under five different headings-" - The unique characteristics of the digital revolution, that is its interactive potential and its decentralizing nature, offering the poor a new set of opportunities for social and economic integration. - The universal access to IT is essential and if left to the market mechanisms will never be a reality for the low-income communities, unless given an impetus by the government. (especially in the development of the social sphere) - The inadequacy of the existing government policies regarding IT and universal access. - A proposal of policies necessary for channeling IT's benefits towards low-income areas, laying special stress on the fact that IT is no substitute for Social Policy and that planning must begin at the grass-root level. - Some ideas about what kind of research is necessary to devise policies sensitive to the particular needs of the poor.
The book ends with a very positive note of "What's Next?", and reframes the objectives that it began with, into : " Given an intention to achieve a certain kind of benefit for low-income people, or to help them achieve a benefit for themselves, how might a variant of the multifaceted technology serve the purpose."
On the whole the book is a good 'Food for Thought', and sets one thinking about such an important and yet 'insignificant' aspect of IT and sets one rethinking about what one does with this powerful tool.
· Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age
· Digital Divide: Computers and Our Children's Future