The Internet is a playground for the affluent: Not a democratic classroom

June 29, 2011 at 12:41 am 1 comment

This is exactly the problem that Alan Collins was describing in his AERA talk this last Spring. The Internet is deeply divided along economic lines. His concern was that open learning created opportunities for the rich but not the poor, and removed the “compulsory” subjects that created a sense of civic duty.

A study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests the social Web is becoming more of a playground for the affluent and the well-educated than a true digital democracy.

Despite the proliferation of social media — and recent focus on sites like Twitter and Facebook playing pivotal roles in such pro-democracy movements as the Arab Spring — most blogs, Web sites and video-sharing sites represent the perspectives of college-educated, Web 2.0-savvy affluent users, a UC Berkeley release said Tuesday.

“Having Internet access is not enough. Even among people online, those who are digital producers are much more likely to have higher incomes and educational levels,” said Jen Schradie, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley and author of the study.

via Study: Internet use not ‘democratic’ –

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mark Miller  |  July 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    My experience with online social media generally agrees with what this article talks about, though in many cases it’s been difficult for me to ascertain the education level of participants. Nevertheless it’s been disappointing, because it’s difficult to find people online who are willing to have rational discussions about issues, even among those who I have been able to see have college degrees. Your blog has been one of the exceptions, so thanks for being here!

    This article is difficult to comment upon, because I’m left wondering how the study determined that people online have college degrees. I guess most people mention that somewhere in their bio., but not everyone has to, or prefers to do so.

    It used to be understandable that those with a college education would dominate the internet, because universities were one of the few places where one could get access to it. Now that is of course no longer the case.

    I remember reading years ago that there was a time when social media had a lot of high school graduates on it, because they were looking for contacts for getting into a good university. Facebook used to be known as the “it” place to be for that, because it operated on an invitation-only basis, and it was known as a place that had a lot of students from top-flight universities. High school graduates coveted the opportunity to be invited on it. This was contrasted with MySpace, which served the same function for many high school graduates before FB came along. I saw a few articles that expressed concern that there was a socio-economic stratification going on, in terms of college opportunities, between MySpace and FB. MySpace was seen as more of the “average,” or low-income high school crowd, while FB was getting the more ambitious and upwardly mobile. Since they didn’t share networks, there was less mixing. After a point, MySpace was considered “dead,” though it’s still around.

    Considering the technological history of the internet it seems we have a different issue going on than was the case in the late 1960s. Back then the problem was very basic. Computing communities, were sprouting up around time-sharing systems, and were not coming together because no networks of that breadth existed, and there was concern about wasting too many computing cycles on managing the traffic. Now the problem is “stovepiped” communities, because the online community, whether it be purely social, or economic (as in the case of eBay), is increasingly becoming proprietary, even though it all exists in an environment that is made for interconnection! Come to think of it, this phenomenon has waxed and waned. I can remember in the 1980s when there were commercial services that offered online access to their own systems, basically carrying out one of the original objectives of time sharing, and they were proprietary as well, not sharing access to each system’s resources. When the internet was commercialized, this model got blown out of the water, because these systems were seen as too limiting. Now it’s back, with entrepreneurs having found a way to implement it on the internet. The only reason I can see for this happening is that the generic internet is not addressing something that the people who use it desire, and it seems to me this involves capturing social dynamics.


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