Implicit Segregation

The world we live in is not fair and to think so would be irrational. Looking this week at inequalities in technology and the digital world, Dana Boyd and Eszte Hargittai first look at the inequalities in the real world and how this translates to the online world. Although I am aware of the online social inequalities that have led to the high numbers of bullying cases over the last several years, I was intrigued, but not surprised, to see the findings of Boyd in how real life segregation transfers to our online worlds and specifically in the life of teens. I feel this is however a very intricate relationship, especially on the topic of “race”. As Boyd points out in “Inequality: Can Social Media Resolve Social Divisions?” when interviewing teens from schools that claimed to be culturally inclusive and the teens felt that there was no division in the school, it was quite apparent that when they entered into the online world there was clear evidence of segregation between these school’s classmates based on “race” and socioeconomic status. The teens interviewed were a bit shocked to see how the segregation unfolded online as they were not explicitly aware of this implicit behaviour. This is why I feel it can be a tricky subject as even though some people have no conscious intention of this segregation something within their implicit nature has in fact created this divide which can be due to a number of things deeply rooted in their subconscious. Overall, speaking generally, this inequality is always going to exist in the digital world as long as it exists in the real world. “Race matters in cyberspace precisely because all of us who spend time online are already shaped by the ways in which race matters offline and we can’t help but bring our own knowledge, experiences, and values with us when we log on” (Boyd, 2014, p.158).

I feel there is, and should be, a real concern for inequality in the digital world. Inequality is already such a major issue all over the world and by bringing it online sadly amplifies the problems. “The mere existence of new technology neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems. In fact, their construction typically reinforces existing social division” (Boyd, 2014, p.156). Inequality in the online world is faster, instant, reaches hundreds more than offline and can become a viral noise. The internet, although prospected for positivity and collaboration between all individuals, has given that everyday person accessibility to voice their own opinion (Schäfer, 2011) and has added to this mass production of inequality.

In the winter I had the pleasure of listening to Wolfgang Lehmann talk about his study, “In a Class of Their Own: How working-class students experience university” and this topic of online inequality can be a reflection of some of his points on segregation. Those coming from a lower income home tend to have fewer resources and let’s say maybe don’t have the same kind of access to computers and the internet as the more middle to upper class students. Being “online” is a huge part of university and although they would have access to these resources at school it would still take a little more effort and time on their end to do what is required of them compared to someone who has the accessibility to these things anywhere they go. And lastly Boyd points out that just because someone has access to the internet doesn’t necessarily mean they have access to information because it does take some skill to find and narrow down what you are looking for. For me this was a major learning curve coming back to school and trying to locate specific reputable articles to supplement my papers. A task in itself!

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