[Air-l] relation digital divide - knowledge gap

Paula pmg at gmx.co.uk
Wed May 11 08:25:01 PDT 2005

Yeah I'm always dubious about this stuff. This has been an educational 
hot potato since time began. There are endless studies demonstrating 
that middle-class people are far more likely to use educational 
facilities in a middle-class way - surprise!  And the middle-class way 
is, of course, the *only* way . . .

As if we're not having enough fun dealing with the likes of Eric Raymond 
telling us that studies have proven that African people and the diaspora 
have much lower IQs than Europeans. One of these studies, to take a 
random example, used a sample of rural African migrants coming into 
Israel looking for manual work. Strangely, these individuals' lives have 
not prepared them to construct a pyramid out of only 3 matchsticks 
without breaking any, manipulate abstract shapes with spots on them or 
contemplate how long a frog would take to circumnavigate the moon at a 
known constant speed. However, clearly  ;-)   they can be seen as an 
splendidly representative sample of a global diaspora comprising 
everyone from illiterate farm labourers who've never used a telephone to 
internationally revered academics.

I vaguely recall E P Thompson mentioning that handwritten copies of 
Rousseau's and Voltaire's radical essays were circulating amongst 
working-class Chartist activists in the 19th Century -- these activists 
would mostly have nothing more than a Methodist Sunday-School 
education.  My grandmother (from a long line of Welsh Methodist labour 
activist with nothing but Sunday-school literacy) used to copy out 
entire library books for me by hand when I was a child so I have 
personal experience of that tradition. 'Course, that'd be "piracy" now  
;-)   and they'd cart nanny off for criminally attempting to participate 
in the information society as an unrepentant poor person. Nan didn't 
hold with apeing middle-class ways -- she had an ingrained sense of 
class loyalty, brought up to believe you work for the class as a whole 
and don't just try to haul yourself out of the hole and pull up the 
ladder after you. God forbit you could remain loyal to the agendas and 
traditions of your community of origin and still be able to make a 
decent livingl. Dumb old woman eh?

On a more contemporary level, Asian kids around me in Shadwell (on some 
of the most deprived housing estates in the UK) are setting up 
bittorrents to distribute the digital music they create by hybridising 
diasporic forms from all over the globe on cracked software on whatever 
crappy old PCs they can get hold of. They can also sort out a satellite 
dish to pick up global TV beyond the Murdoch menu and flip you between 
Al Jazeera's Arabic service, Star News and BBC News 24 and deliver an 
impassioned, illustrated, critique of Western news values flipping 
effortlessly between the three languages they are fluent in. Still, if 
you asked them to tell you which of three black and white shapes will 
fit in a hole if skewed at 34 degrees they'd look at you like you're 
pathetically nuts and suck their teeth in irritable dismissal of such a 
pointless f***ing activity. Of course, they still manage to fail IT 
courses at school because they're not terribly interested in 
constructing spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel which they don't have a use 
for. Of course, they'd be happy to run you up an nice little critical 
Islamist blog . . . but, strangely, corporate employers aren't 
particularly crying out for that skill . . .

Or to put it another way, why would you bother learning alien skills to 
go after jobs -- or fit yourself up with a student loan it'll take the 
rest of your life to pay off -- when you know perfectly well that the 
primary hiring criterion for middle-class jobs in the UK is being a 
white bloke with the "right" accent? At best, you might end up joining 
the the other third-generation immigrants in IT helpdesk hell for too 
little money to leave home on. Why bother when once a week you can haul 
arse up to the dole office and get too little money to leave home on -- 
so you have more time to make groundbreaking music and hone your 
expertise in ad hoc electronics and deconstructing news media . . .    8-) 


Radhika Gajjala wrote:

> So instead of focussing on class and cultural capital and formations 
> of knowledge-hierarchies we take for granted "smart" and "dumb" and 
> proceed to study knowledge gaps.
> interesting.
> (of course I knew this - my question still is what "knowledge gap")
> thanks for the kind explanation, Ulla:)
> r
>> Radhika and others, the knowledge gap hypothesis is a theoretical 
>> approach (not a
>> full-blown theory)  that was developed quite a while ago and that 
>> basically
>> describes how the smart are getting smarter and the dumb are not, and 
>> so the dumb
>> seem dumber in comparison to the smart that are getting smarter. 
>> Well, this is
>> oversimplification, but you may get the idea this way. Famous case 
>> study:
>> Sesamestreet in Britain, which was originally designed to teach the 
>> kids of the
>> lower/blue color classes, but because kids of the middle classes 
>> watched it too and
>> the middle class kids had more resources (supportive parents, 
>> exposure to learning
>> opportunities, etc.), the middle class kids actually learned more 
>> from Sesamestreet
>> than the working class kids did. Ergo: the knowledge gap widened, 
>> rather than
>> closed. And yes, this is very applicable to the digital divide and 
>> I've long been
>> asking myself why no one seems to have picked up on that and did some 
>> theory-based
>> work here. Glad to see Michael's interest in this and hope good 
>> sources will pop up
>> on the list.
>> Ulla
>> -- 
>> ***Address Change for Ulla Bunz:
>> Starting July 1, I will be at Floriday State University. Please note 
>> my new email
>> address: ulla.bunz at comm.fsu.edu. The new address is already in place, 
>> so you may use
>> either the new address or the current address 
>> (bunz at scils.rutgers.edu) until July 1.
>> Thank you!
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