Dos and Don’ts of Arguing the Digital Divide

There are a few topoi and traps for our subject that might be consciously, respectively, approached and avoided, at least initially, if we attempt to articulate them. That said, here are a few maxims, sketched relatively quickly, for what we should expect and what we should eschew in our class. These are not rules for how to interact in the classroom — how to act respectfully, the necessity of showing up on time, etc. Rather, what follows are simply a few philosophical guidelines for thinking that inevitably will underlie our discussion of the digital divide, ideas which we will toss around and problems which we dance around.

  1. Don’t fall into Luddism. It’s an easy temptation to blame technology for all the faults — social, political, economic, psychological — of the early 21st Century, and certainly a number of reputable writers have suggested as much. While we will necessarily discuss what those thinkers have to say and look for the nuances in their arguments, let’s work to avoid mere essentializations that find the solution in simply abandoning the digital and tossing out the baby with the bathwater.
  2. Don’t fall for technophilia. In line with the above, it is by no means difficult to think that computers hold the key to myriad problems of our era; and again, there is a library’s worth of literature arguing just that point. In a course like ours, we will, of course, contend with that contention, complicating it as necessary — but let’s do our best to avoid the trap of over-simplification and the belief that there is a single answer that will cut that Gordian knot.
  3. Don’t fault other cultures. Naturally, our class will be discussing a variety of cultures, societies, ideologies, political and economic systems. It goes without saying — but I say it nonetheless, just to be clear on the expectation — that we as a class must make every conceivable effort to respect certain choices and circumstances even if we do not understand them fully or if they cut against our own idiosyncratic grain.
  4. Do question your own culture. Which is not to say blame your own culture, but rather: We all are thrown into this life with a whole boat load of presumptions, prejudices, beliefs, etc., which we hardly ever question. These make up our ideology, and a major undercurrent of our course will be precisely to parse through ideological discourse in order to reckon the way that those structures might be working on us — and, in doing so, how we might then subvert the network and make it work for us.
  5. Do question your instructor. Because he does not know all the answers. Because he is just as wrapped up in ideologies as you are. Because he is, after all the work done to prepare the class, as much on the fence as he was when he started.  Because he wants to learn as much from you as you do from him. And because he wants to help you in any way that he might be able.
  6. Do take charge of your own privileges. At the end of the day — and I guess, at the end of this post — the fact of the matter is that you are a student at a world-class university, in a prestigious program, provided with the incredible, enviable opportunity to study in comfort, to think freely. Not everyone has that privilege. Nor does everyone have the same sort of digital accesses as you, as we will see through our research. But that does not mean that we should be ashamed of those circumstances, or that we should feel guilt; rather, the goal is to find ways to assume those privileges fully, responsibly, and ethically.

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