Sunday, November 2, 2008

Power, Control, Validity and Authority in Distributed Environments

Information on the internet is no longer ‘scare’.  Facts and figures, on just about anything, is now available at your fingertips, and within seconds.

However, has the advent of the internet been an equally ‘freeing’ experience for all?

Just because the internet exists, it doesn’t mean that everyone has access to it. 

Consider some of the following:

- Kevin 07’s Digital Education Revolution might be trying to address the lack of computers in schools but there is still a huge digital access divide in our homes.  A colleague this week heard on a daily current affair show that 87% home in Adelaide’s Eastern suburbs have internet connection (broadband no doubt), compared to 27% in the Northern suburbs, and regionally remote individuals have poor or no internet access.

- A recent ‘coffee chat’ with a project manager, deploying an e-portfolio system to manage a senior secondary school unit, described the vast chasm between the technical infrastructure and technical support of private/independent schools compared to their poor cousins, the public school system.  Surely school connectivity, ranging from a 10mb connection down to a 256/512 kb connection, must influence the adoption of effective e-learning strategies, and therefore effective use of the internet.

If information is power and you can’t access information due to costs and poor infrastructure, are you then powerless? And if you do have access to this information, who is controlling/managing the information (ie Google, MSN etc)– is this ‘controlled’ power?

Consider: Google’s vested interest in influencing its search results; ICT manager’s and politicians need to manage information access through controlled firewalls and internet filters; and teachers dictation over who should/shouldn’t access their knowledge through their walled gardened LMS and what information students should/shouldn’t view ie Wikipedia.

@jhawtin tweeted that “the net offers ease of sharing ;-)” but this practice isn’t as widely spread as it should be as many want to 'own' information and hence retain their power stronghold, so sharing is not encourage and enforced through controlling copyright and trademarks regulation.

Increased influence or popularity, and therefore connectivity, offers some internet sites engendered ‘Power Laws’ – allow them to restrict what information people view or access by what’s feed through these sites.

Manuel Castells cites that “power no longer resides in individual institutions (even states) but in what he calls the ‘switchers’ through which networks regulate terms of entry and privilege or exclude particular interests or positions.” Hence, accountability can no longer be a linear process, whereby one party is held accountable by another, but “something more complex and messy, with lines of accountability that are: multiple; overlapping; and based on deliberative as well as procedural processes.”

There is some socially democratic existence on the web through the ‘open source’ movement, an approach that originated in software programming through things like the Linux computer operating system, and through the sharing of content, images and video, by ‘Creative Commons’ licenses.

The internet may not be a truly free and accessible space, so individuals need to be aware of its imbalances and inequities by knowing how to think and question – the Russians knew they were being feed propaganda during the Cold War – but do you know that Google and Facebook is mining your data?

The internet allows access to free information but is it truly freely accessible?

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