Our debate topic this week — technology is a force for equity in society — is, in my opinion, the most complex topic thus far. The previous four debates focused (from my perspective) on a more local-provincial level and at time national level. However, this topic seems more far reaching to me. Yes, it resonates locally, provincially and nationally, but also internationally and globally.
Team Agree mentioned several times that technology itself is the scapegoat for the corporate entity that produces it. True, a computer or cellphone is not to blame for inequity in society but rather the goals of economic expansion seems more at fault. The goals of massive tech corporations are deep seated in societal “values” of inequity that existed long before modern technology arrived. In fact, this article compares modern day government / corporate involvement in the digital world to the medieval feudalism.
Much of Monday’s debate had me thinking about my ED 808 class with Marc Spooner on Social Justice and Globalization. Typically, globalization and “words and concepts like economic growth, progress, development, and individual freedom are often presented to students (and all the rest of us, for that matter) as synonyms for ‘good'” (Bigelow, 2002, Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, p. 308). This can certainly apply to the international expansion of technology and access to the internet. If we question concepts of economic growth, progress and development keeping in mind on whose agenda, for what purpose, who benefits and who suffers, these terms can be viewed quite differently. As Bigelow (2002) suggests, “globalization’s aim is to open up every nook and cranny of the earth to investment…Cultural diversity is the loser” (Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, p. 262).
In the documentary, “Unschooling the World” (2010), Wade Davis discusses how Western power and thought often finds itself enmeshed in culturally diverse places as if to say, “here we are to teach your children” in the mostly blindly ignorant way. When Alec mentioned the notion of the “white saviour” last night, this is what he was referring to; the idea of the powerful and all-knowing North sent to save the South. With this type of bias in mind, you can imagine the assumptions made about what the South is like and the people that may inhabit it. However, often Western thought invades these culturally diverse places without being asked. These are places that are self-sufficient and prosperous nations that didn’t want or need the “help” they are so often forced to receive.
So, when we hear in the news that Facebook wants to provide free access to users in Africa, one lens to view this through is that Facebook is attempting to provide more equal access to users across the world citing digital rights issues. On the other hand, this story can also be viewed through the lens of digital colonialism. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg was “accused of acting like a digital colonialist: shouting about the right to the internet to mask true profit motives”. In another Ted Talk, Wade Davis argues that “the 20th century…is not going to be remembered for its wars or its technological innovations but rather as the era in which we stood by and either actively endorsed or passively accepted the massive destruction of both biological and cultural diversity on the planet. Now, the problem isn’t change…The problem is not technology itself…It’s not change or technology that threatens the integrity of the ethnosphere. It is power… dynamic living peoples [are] being driven to extinction but identifiable power inequity” due to the colonial powers that continue to exist today.
When I look closer to home and think about my own experiences in a variety of schools with different socio-economic demographics, I see the digital inequity being lived out locally. This may be through device-to-student ratios, through access to paid applications and programs, through access to Internet/devices at home that may help or in absence, hinder learning and also the inequity that exists in money available through parent councils.
Further, I question digital equity or technology as a force for equity provincially as well. What about our federally run schools? What kind of access do they have? What kind of access is available in Saskatchewan and Canada’s more remote communities? When I see articles like this one, suggesting Internet upgrades in Saskatchewan Indigenous communities (or this one) I view the message with a critical lens. Yes, there are many positives to having digital access but keeping in mind the previous discussion, what risks are associated with increased access and what is being lost (culturally or otherwise) because of the presence of the technology and the corporations behind it.
We often use the image below to discuss equity, but did anyone ask, metaphorically speaking, to see the ball game in the first place? Or did some Western corporation suggest that the ball game was something we needed. Further, how does this discussion fit with the section on Education in the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada: Calls to Action? Who is making decisions about how digital access will influence (for better or worse) and affect the communities of young Indigenous people who are simultaneously seeking equitable educational opportunities as their non-Indigenous counterparts?
To clarify, when I think about inequity, I always refer back to what my professor of ED 804, Twyla Salm creatively acronym-ed RASH. That is, racism (culture), ableism, sexism and heterosexism. While most of my discussion in this post focused on cultural inequity and socio-economic inequity, I am not discounting other inequities that exist in our society and I thank Team Disagree for bringing light to some of these other issues. As a disclaimer to my earlier message, I do recognize the power of assistive technology for students. I recognize how technology has enhanced learning in my own classroom. I acknowledge how technology has shed light on massive social movements and in many ways, technology has allowed for minority populations or groups to gain increased positive attention. In this post, I am not attempting to discount any of these positive impacts of technology. But I do think we need to look a little deeper and reflect critically when we think about how technology can influence inequity in society.
I’d like to close in the following way…
Technology as a tool (computer, cellphone, etc.) is not to blame for inequity in society. The massive corporations that produce technology for the “betterment of society”, for “progress”, for “economic development” play a major role in increasing inequity in society. However, even corporations are the scapegoat for the true culprit in our inequitable society. Society as a collective including those that manage these large tech corporations are the product of hundreds of years of colonialism and colonial education. So, in the wise words of Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, “Education has gotten us into this mess, and education will get us out“. Regardless of the technology or corporations that create it, education is the key to addressing inequity in society and helping us find a way out.