Harnessing Digital Disruption; some comments

Innovation Ultrafast Broadband
02 Nov, 06 by Roz

I found yesterday’s event at Watershed valuable, informative and engaging. However, during the event there were two topics of debate that I would like to comment upon.

Firstly, and for me, most significantly, I was struck by the number of occasions on which people referred to young people as being competent, confident and familiar users of digital technologies. I have worked with many young people for whom this is simply not the case. The research I have conducted with young people in informal spaces has shown that many young people do not have access to digital technology on any regular basis and therefore have not amassed skills or familiarity in its use.

I have worked with many young people whose fear of failure has prevented them from being able to simply try things out on the computer. They have not been confident users, and have often never used a mouse before. Many of these young people were not regular school attendees, which may go some way to explain the differences in their experiences from those that inform dominant perceptions. However, many young people who I have worked with have been regular school attendees, but have not had any access to digital technology outside of that context. What they have told me is that they don’t get the chance to use computers at school because those who are confident and familiar with the technology tend to hog the equipment. In this way the inequalities of informal access are replicated in the formal education context because an assumption is made that all young people are confident users of digital technology and therefore it is assumed that they don’t need any support or guidance. Furthermore, the expectation placed on young people is such that those who are not confident users are too embarrassed to admit it or to expose their lack of experience by using the technology in front of their peers or teachers. I think that this issue is crucial, because the more inclined we are to believe the myth of all young people being confident users of digital technology, the less likely it is for us to be able to address the inequalities that do exist. In order to address inequality we have first to acknowledge its existence. If anyone is interested in the basis of my argument, it is one that is clarified in the following publications:

Hall. R.
The Value of Visual Exploration: Understanding Cultural Activities with Young People
The Public: West Bromwich: 2005

Hall. R.
‘Tailor-made Practice’
In Raney (Ed) Engage; Issue11; Inclusion Under Pressure.
Engage / Cornerhouse: London / Manchester: 2002

Hall, R.
‘Young Peoples’ Diverse Encounters with Digital Technology’.
In Boyd, F. et al. (Eds) New Media Culture in Europe.
Uitgeverij De Balie and The Virtual Platform: Amsterdam:1999.

Secondly, but less significantly, I found the debate about our ‘electronic footprints’ very interesting, as I too am concerned about the ways in which information, concerning my life, could be used by others. However, what is rarely acknowledged is the extent to which such information is inaccurate or easily misinterpreted. The most obvious example for me is Amazon. Amazon know what I buy. However, they have no idea why I buy it. Therefore, after the festive season has been and gone I know that Amazon will recommend titles to me, for up to at least six months, in which I have no interest whatsoever. Clearly, this is because I have bought presents for people using Amazon, but there is no consideration by Amazon of this being a possibility. Therefore I don’t think that Amazon or any other such company really has any idea of who I am or what I am interested in. This argument can be developed in two ways, firstly it is indicative of how unreliable such data is and therefore of the potentially disastrous nature of any significant decisions, for example through government use of such data, being based upon it. Secondly it implies useful strategies to disrupt the collection of such information. For example, ever since the use of reward cards in supermarkets has become prevalent I have delighted in not having one, and instead, in giving my points to the person behind me at the checkout. I thereby influence other people’s profiles rather than giving away any information about myself. This sort of day-to-day disruption is easily achieved, and if more people did it the value of the data collected through such schemes would be completely undermined and exposed as being unreliable.

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