Blog for the course offered at Teachers College, Columbia University during Fall 2005

Friday, November 04, 2005

Matt and the dark side

Matt writes:

I fear that social capital, like classical capital**, can lead to greater disparity between the "haves" and "have nots". The digital divide provides an easy example of how this might play out. Wealthier citizens have greater access to electronic media and the Internet. Well implemented social software affords these prosperous citizens even larger networks of trust and connections. Poorer citizens, on the other hand, miss out on these opportunities. The digital divide thereby becomes a force for greater social capital and, therefore, economic disparity. Acting in this capacity, social capital becomes an important gatekeeper to maintaining the status quo; the opposite of its touted potential as a force for greater equality.

In many ways you have called the techno-enthusiast's bluff, Matt: the benefits of technology mean little (or in fact, contribute to the divide between the have's and have-not's) if more prevalent forms of oppression (poverty, discrimination, etc.) are not addressed. Like you, I am interested in some of the same issues regarding the uneven distribution of social capital as facilitated by the new social software technologies. Currently, my thinking is that there is a way to use the same technologies that create inequalities to reduce those disparities. The solution involves not universal access to technology (which, realistically, ain't going to happen anytime soon), but the conceptualization of models of social agency and participation that extend the benefits of the new social technologies to spheres of society that do not have access to them, for the reasons you have outlined. In the end, it all boils down to the same old question: how can we use technology to build a better world? Before, the answer used to revolve around the innovativeness of technology itself. Now, it seems to revolve around the social capital that technologies like social software can facilitate. By focusing the objective of the Issue Entrepreneurship project not on the technology but on the social cause, I hope that we as a class make some progress towards figuring out how to do this.


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