Digital divide encompasses more than technology

December 13, 2002

Access to information technology and training in IT skills are supposed to level the economic playing field for women and low-income minorities, but two Penn State researchers say acquiring that expertise alone doesn't automatically lead to upward mobility.

In fact, the information society may be perpetuating social and economic inequalities by race and gender, say Lynette Kvasny, assistant professor of information sciences and technology, and Eileen Trauth, professor of information sciences and technology. By themselves, technology and IT skills will not bring more minorities and women into the workplace. Essential in bridging the digital divide is dismantling the social and cultural barriers that exclude underrepresented groups from equal participation in the information society.

Those barriers are explored in the paper, "The Digital Divide at Work and Home: The Discourse about Power and Underrepresented Groups in the Information Society," presented today (Dec. 13) at the International Federation of Information Processing Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

"The assumption is if underserved groups get IT skills, they can compete effectively," Kvasny said. "But there are broader issues and a need to look at the institutions - be they the workplace, home, schools or communities - where people are still marginalized."

Kvasny's conclusions were drawn from interviews with African-American participants in a community technology center in Atlanta, Ga., that offered free use of and training on computers. The center was a city initiative aimed at enabling low-income residents to become IT literate.

Trauth studied women in IT positions in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

Common to the two seemingly disparate groups were the coping strategies they devised for dealing with the economic and social inequalities found at home and in the workplace. For many of the African-American program participations, the newly acquired IT skills weren't the passport they had been told would guarantee their admittance to the information society.

While they may have entered the gate, many of the professional women in IT in those industrialized countries also had limited career opportunities.

Kvasny and Trauth characterize those shared responses as conceding to, conforming to and challenging the IT power structure that separates the insiders from the outsiders.

Kvasny noted how some inner-city residents characterized IT as "not for people like us" with some African-American males even saying that IT is "acting White" or "doing women's work." Others, mostly women, saw the acquisition of IT skills as opening employment doors, but primarily to the service industry rather than professional positions.

Few challenged the status quo with the exception of senior citizens who, unlike the stereotype of the intimidated older user, embraced IT for shopping online for medications, emailing distant family members and composing music, Kvasny said.

While the women in Trauth's study were IT professionals, many still were excluded from the information society. Some study participants indicated they felt "forced out" of the IT workplace because of prevailing cultural attitudes limiting women's work opportunities in those particular countries. Others said the IT industry forced women to choose between their careers and their families.

Still others told compelling stories about the time and energy they had to devote to challenging the IT power structure - efforts that were met with varying degrees of success, Trauth said.

Interventions aimed at spanning the digital divide will open the IT sector to more women and minorities only if education about technology skills is conducted in tandem with dismantling existing social and cultural barriers. Without that, IT will become "the latest mechanism for stratifying society," Kvasny said.

"A measure of the success of our research will be the extent to which people understand that the digital divide isn't simply a technology issue but a social issue as well," Trauth said.
-end-


Penn State

Related Technology Articles from Brightsurf:

December issue SLAS Technology features 'advances in technology to address COVID-19'
The December issue of SLAS Technology is a special collection featuring the cover article, ''Advances in Technology to Address COVID-19'' by editors Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D., (National University of Singapore), Pak Kin Wong, Ph.D., (The Pennsylvania State University, PA, USA) and Xianting Ding, Ph.D., (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China).

October issue SLAS Technology now available
The October issue of SLAS Technology features the cover article, 'Role of Digital Microfl-uidics in Enabling Access to Laboratory Automation and Making Biology Programmable' by Varun B.

Robot technology for everyone or only for the average person?
Robot technology is being used more and more in health rehabilitation and in working life.

Novel biomarker technology for cancer diagnostics
A new way of identifying cancer biomarkers has been developed by researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

Technology innovation for neurology
TU Graz researcher Francesco Greco has developed ultra-light tattoo electrodes that are hardly noticeable on the skin and make long-term measurements of brain activity cheaper and easier.

April's SLAS Technology is now available
April's Edition of SLAS Technology Features Cover Article, 'CURATE.AI: Optimizing Personalized Medicine with Artificial Intelligence'.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Post-lithium technology
Next-generation batteries will probably see the replacement of lithium ions by more abundant and environmentally benign alkali metal or multivalent ions.

Rethinking the role of technology in the classroom
Introducing tablets and laptops to the classroom has certain educational virtues, according to Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, but her research suggests that tech has its limitations as well.

The science and technology of FAST
The Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), located in a radio quiet zone, with the targets (e.g., radio pulsars and neutron stars, galactic and extragalactic 21-cm HI emission).

Read More: Technology News and Technology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.