Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Political Autonomy, If You Can Afford It

This week's readings mentioned something it seems we've only briefly discussed in class, the digital divide. I thought it was great to hear that the people in the Philippines were able to have their voices heard partly through the use of text messaging to gather groups and show solidarity. However the "Poor People Power" movement seemed to also have a fairly large following, but was largely ignored and definitely not celebrated in the way that "People Power II" was.
In fact according to Castells they were described by the English-language media of the Philippines as violent, drunk, unruly, thugs. While some of them may have been (mobs of people tend to attract at least a few of those types) they were also "poor people who had legitimate complaints" (pg 190). Castells attributes the disparity in the description of the two groups in part to "deep-seated class problems" in the country (pg 190).
While I don't know much about the Philippines and it's political or class structures, it makes me wonder how often this type of thing happens in general. The middle and upper classes have access to the media, technology, and other ways of making their voices heard, while the poor have to rely on someone else (typically of the middle or upper classes) to take an interest in their story and broadcast it. Now sometimes these new technologies can work for the disenfranchised if someone takes up their cause and spreads it (ex. the fair trade coffee movement), but again that involves someone from another class and/or culture acting on their behalf (and projecting what they believe is in the best interest of the disenfranchised).
So while all of this new technology sounds great in terms of challenging the powers that be and giving the people a voice, does it really only promote the middle-class status quo, without giving a voice to those who have never had one? Is there a way to bridge the digital divide so that everyone has a chance to have their say, not just those who can afford it?


  1. Katie, I am excited to see you wrote about the digital divide. The only thing these articles did not discuss or even allude to is that with greater globalization there is not just one digital divide- but that there are many. There are digital divides between genders, classes, gender, and even spatial areas (like urban vs. rural). I would have liked to hear more about networks and these divides. I, too, had similar questions after this reading, which my have been slightly influenced by our tourism class :)

  2. Very true! But then, I also have another concern - from the opposite perspective - so I'll be playing the devil's advocate here.

    Let's take the example of Iran. We were all (at least, most of us) horrified at all that happened there in June and after (things are still happening, even if not really covered by the Western media). Yes, whatever the government did against the thousands of its own people was certainly cruel. However, don't forget that most of those protesting were either in Tehran or in other major cities; and, they were mostly representatives of the younger generation (students were by far the majority). So what about the other millions who were NOT protesting? who did not have access to twitter/facebook/blogs? who don't know English, so could not be heard in the West? what if they DID really want Ahmadinejad? and what if THIS group was the true nation-wide majority?

    Again, I can find NO justification to whatever the Ayatollahs and Ahmy did to their people. What I'm saying is that sometimes we conveniently ignore all the millions of alternative voices who are "left out" and cannot join in the overall outcry, precisely due to the digital/educational divide, and because it serves certain interests (ALWAYS!). And precisely due to that, we can never know whether "Outcry Democracy" is truly representative, or whether the 2009 election in Iran (to use this example) was indeed rigged...

  3. I found the question you proposed about the digital divide very interesting, as it is also one we have been discussing in class recently. We usually think of the digital divide as between the North/South or East/West. But, there also exists a digital divide within the United States.
    I blogged about the Obama campaign's use of wireless media throughout the election. The campaign focused on uniting people through different technological forms, attempting to over come the digital divide in the United States that could exist between those who have access to text messaging versus perhaps those that have access to youtube and understand facebook. But, they also stressed the use of email; hoping to reach the "elderly" who may not be up to date on texting 24/7. As Laura said, and I agree, there are many forms of the "digital divide" that need to be overcome before everyone is truly connected.