[iDC] Where have all the women gone?

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sat Jul 8 18:35:44 EDT 2006

Thanks for not playing it safe, Tiziana, (!) and much respect for your
insightful and provocative contributions so far!

Digital divide. 

"The digital divide with regard to basic access within advanced
economies is important as long as it persists, but seems to be a
transitional problem. Moreover, it is important to recall that the
democratizing effects of the Internet must be compared to democracy in
the context of mass media, not in the context of an idealized utopia.
Computer literacy and skills, while far from universal, are much more
widely distributed than the skills and instruments of mass-media
production." (Benkler, pp. 265-271)

I agree. In addition, the digital divide will not be overcome by
computer-mediated Internet access, never mind MIT's $100 laptop.
(Perhaps not every child needs a computer after all.) Cell phones and
PDAs are (and will be) the core networking-tool globally. Again, it's
not primarily the Internet that shakes up societies worldwide: it's cell
phones in tandem with other factors obviously. (It's not a utopian dream
that SMS helps to bring down authoritarian regimes.) There is a helpful
graph at the end of this blog post that shows the sharp contrast between
net and cell phone access worldwide.



Additional links that I provided lead to much concrete evidence of
specific social changes related to SMS. We can talk about these specific
stories. How were the technologies used? What worked? What did not
function? The foremost question, for me, is how to foster (political)
participation. What motivates people to partake? Why do contribute
content to the Internet?

In relation to the networked public sphere, a term that works for me,
the question of political participation is central to "unsettling
relations of domination." Such participation begs the question of what
entices people to participate at all. Participation is not the default.
Interpassivity is much more common. Robert Putnam showed that
participation in civic life is on the steep decline (in North America).
At the same time, online, people become socialites, they go bowling
together all the time. 
Africa has 14.1% of the world population but only 2.3% of its Internet
users. However, one in ten Africans has a cell phone. 

"One manifestation of distributed coordination for political action is
something Howard Rheingold has called ³smart mobs²‹large collections of
individuals who are able to coordinate real-world action through widely
distributed information and communications technology. He tells of the
³People Power II² revolution in Manila in 2001, where demonstrations to
oust then president Estrada were coordinated spontaneously through
extensive text messaging." 
(Benkler, pp. 265-271)
The number of Internet users has sharply shifted from the US to the rest
of the world. Of the 694 million unique visitors over the age of 14 who
used the Internet in March [2006], the most were in seven countries: the
United States (152.1 million), China (74.7 million), Japan (52.1
million), Germany (31.8 million), Britain (30.2 million), South Korea
(24.7 million) and France (23.9 million). Many net access studies leave
out Internet access on public computers in Internet cafes, which is
actually the dominant means of access in Asia. 
Now, Vietnam has 12 million Internet users out of its 85 million
population but it has a 300% growth rate of broadband subscribers. A
month ago, MTV started a Spanish language MySpace-type social networking
space, Latin America's Lazona.com. There is also another Spanish
language social-networking site out of Miami- Elhood.com).


"...in authoritarian countries, the introduction of Internet
communications makes it harder and more costly for governments to
control the public sphere. If these governments are willing to forgo the
benefits of Internet connectivity, they can avoid this problem. If they
are not, they find themselves with less control over the public sphere.
There are, obviously, other means of more direct repression. However,
control over the mass media was, throughout most of the twentieth
century, a core tool of repressive governments. It allowed them to
manipulate what the masses of their populations knew and believed, and
thus limited the portion of the population that the government needed to
physically repress to a small and often geographically localized group.
The efficacy of these techniques of repression is blunted by adoption of
the Internet and the emergence of a networked information economy.
Low-cost communications, distributed technical and organizational
structure, and ubiquitous presence of dynamic authorship tools make
control over the public sphere difficult, and practically never
perfect." (Benkler, pp. 265-271)

In Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Singapore, but also in the US, governments
struggle with the repercussions of online sociality.


Singaporean blogger suspended after gov't criticism

Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites

Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China by Jonathan Zittrain
and Benjamin Edelman

[Also as a follow-up]
A paper on Trent Lott: Mass media versus blogosphere

Daoud Kuttab's Blog, Palestinian political commentator and activist in

Saudi US-based blogger

Kamangir (Archer), Iranian Blogger

US Military Abroad, Group Blog

Daily War News

Iraq Blog Count (Iraq Blog counting ~ Iraq blogs counted and linked. )

The web diarist known as the Baghdad Blogger

Dan Gillmor, "A New Brand of Journalism is Taking Root in South Korea" 

Weblog on Iran, technology and pop culture, by Hossein Derakhshan

The eyeranian is the weblog of an Iranian couple (Mitra and Pedra) from
Los Angeles. 

iranFilter is a collective news website focused on Iran

Blog Africa

Blog by John Evans Atta, Ghana 

China Bloglist

Blogger in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico 

"I understand people's impatience with theoretical pontifications, but I
feel rather impatient myself with attempts to say that empirical case
studies are just self evident. I have witnessed too many detailed
writings of empirical case studies not to know that even the most
detailed and observational of them, carry within them lots of unstated
assumptions that make the accounts always partial, always carrying the
consequences of particular approaches which are often left unstated.
Even the most specific detailed case study is philosophical."

For me, theory needs to carry a participatory and reflective involvement
with practice. When we talk about the quality of communication or the
role of minorities online it's hard for me to envision a philosophy that
works. It's very hard to generalize about technologies. Theory for me,
needs to have urgency, it needs to be rooted in histories, specificity
(concrete examples, in-depth case studies, interviews), philosophical
abstraction, actual knowledge about technology, projections,
considerations of political/socio-economical contexts, cultural
production, considerations of affect, emotions, the personal. The
facilitation of discourse, of community, and the production of art and
theory go hand in hand. 

A quick look showed me that women contributed 16% of iDC posts in June.
On the other hand, there are currently roughly 300 women and 450 men
subscribed to this list. What's the ratio on comparable lists?   

A quantitative study by Joyce and Kraut investigated what triggers
continued participation in news groups. Often, too often, women are more
engaged readers but remain lurkers. "Differences in Actual and Perceived
Online Skills: The Role of Gender," a recently released study by Eszter
Hargittai and Steven Shafecon concluded, "that women's self-assessed
skill is significantly lower than that of men." 


Whatever the reasons are-- they are not comforting; it's simply bad and
there is no excuse. It's 2006! 

Beyond a general call to the keyboard and individual invitations; what
are practical suggestions for fostering participation by women on
mailing lists?


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