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  • A decade or more ago, someone coined "digital divide" to point out that not everyone has access to computers and the Internet. The assumption was that lack of such access is primarily due to economic circumstance and results in limiting one's experience, knowledge and life choices. In other words, if you haven't gone digital yet, you're deprived and don't count for much.

    Mobile technologies like smartphones and tablets are doing a lot to solve the access issue, but they also spread a kind of ignorance. Sure, lots more people now know how to use IM, email and apps, and mobile phones have made health care services and market opportunities available to people that never had them before. But the beneficiaries don't understand how all that actually happens or who controls it, and when it breaks get anxious because they can't fix it. And of course, once people are hooked, they have little choice but to upgrade their "platforms" on a regular basis.

    In that sense – pretty much irrespective of their geek quotient – almost everyone is on the have-not side of the digital divide. What they don't have is any say in what the technologies are used for, which ones will be pushed out next, or their terms of use. (You never read through one of those end user software agreements, do you? Scary stuff.)

    What I'm saying is that the real digital divide isn't between the rich and the poor. It's between the producers and the consumers of information technologies.
  • Full disclosure: For most of my adult life I have been a co-conspirator in digitizing our lives. Yet, though I owe my livelihood to software development, I will never tell you that digital technology is what you need. Despite all the "consumer choice" we have, we are being driven like cattle in a great high-tech round up. The cowboys are Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Google and the next cool start-up you'll hear buzz about. They all say they're giving us what we want. That's Kool-Ade. Don't drink it.

    Some things about our high-tech lives keep me up at night:
    • One is never really anonymous on the Internet without taking extraordinary technical measures that most people don't know how to do.
    • So, everything you do online leaves breadcrumb trails that corporations, governments and criminals can and do vacuum up, warehouse and leverage to seduce and rip you off.
    • Companies that sell e-readers, like Amazon, B&N and Apple, know what book titles you have, what parts of them you read, when and for how long. They can even scarf up your marginalia, even while your library records need a court order to divulge.
    • You have almost no control over those parties or what they do with your droppings. As with your mortgage, they bundle up and sell your stuff, and you'll never get it back.
    • Software aggregates your page views and tweets to infer what you and your peers might want next. Findings are sold to makers of trendy nonessential products, which are then shilled on social networks.
    • Investment houses can follow trades in real time across entire exchanges and execute orders in less than a millisecond. Retail investors don't have that chance – any chance, really.

    Not since the days of absolute monarchies and illiterate peasants and serfs has there been so much imbalance in access to information. It's hard to peer far enough through the blizzard of data that swirls around us to see our plight. We like to think we're better informed than ever, but we're less in charge of our lives than ever. We're not even serfs. We're cattle, being herded along trails through the Internet to the end user abattoir.

    Tweet that.


    @image: map by Matthew Zook, University of Iowa, Basic Information about the Digital Divide
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