General Web 2.0

‘Zones of silence’ vs ‘digital divide’

Thought provoking piece on First Monday about the problems with the term ‘digital divide’. As the author suggests, the term ‘zones’ of silence’ may be a better term as it focusses on the how/what and why of communication rather than simply assuming everyone needs/wants to talk like those on the ‘fortunate’ side of the ‘divide’.

There is no doubt that much digital divide work — including connectivity initiatives, technology transfer programs, and other projects — is done with good intention. Yet, as has been widely recognized, the conceptual framework of the digital divide is limiting. The language of the digital divide not only places people into simplistic “have”/“have not” categories, making assumptions about the solution to “information poverty” with little attention to local contexts, its logic also continues a paradigm of development that engages with the global south only at the point of what it “lacks”. I propose a framework, which provides a wider, and more nuanced, lens to look through. It focuses work in ways and in areas consistently overlooked by the digital divide, particularly on the realities, voices, and complexities within its unconnected, “have not” spaces — the zones of silence. Encouraging critical questioning of assumptions and an understanding of local contexts and points of view, a zones of silence framework is a way to broaden the dialogue on global communication and information access beyond a discourse of need, to one of mutual questioning, sharing, and learning.