For the lack of a better term, ‘Information Divide’ is a way societies have been manipulated hundreds of years – with people who had or have access to quality information versus who didn’t or don’t.
During the Atlantic slave trade era – Africans who were shipped to North America were taught how to cook, clean, farm and knit; but weren’t allowed read and write.
In the 1600s – after the printing press was invented in Europe; the monarchs controlled distribution of information via ‘The Press Act’.
During the colonialism era in India and for many countries within the African continent – information was restricted by not allowing public meetings to facilitate a revolution; and curbing freedom of press.
During the soviet and nazi era – information was only passed from a ‘need-to-know’ basis and the general public was usually unaware of what’s going on because of government restricted/controlled media.
China and Pakistan still block youtube. Indian government indulges in censorships too.
Curbing information access and punishing information seeking behavior has created massive socio-economic gaps in society.
When we fast forward to the age of the Internet and the idea of an open and neutral Internet; revolutionary movements have been possible in countries like Tunisia. This was possible because of an open Internet. If at that moment, social media sites were blocked or extra-ordinarily expensive or slow for the general public to access – the outcome of the country wouldn’t be the same as we see today.
Bridging the digital divide (with an open and neutral Internet) and creating digital literacy programs is arguably one of the best way to support information seeking behavior as we know it.
With an open Internet we have had new opportunities to bridge information gap around the world. Millions of online courses are now possible because universities (and organizations) started posting their course contents online.
At present both these topics, net neutrality and digital divide, are looked at with a separate lens. Whilst in-fact, both these issues are deeply interlinked in our political, social and technical debates/solutions on these topics.
Introducing a design perspective through this research would club these issues into an ‘information divide’ debate.
By understanding the affordances (or restrictions) caused by non-neutral networks – our technologists, educators and lawmakers can better predict effects and design solutions to bridge information poverty.
‘Responsible design’ of the Internet can help our society transcend towards to a knowledge era for all instead of an information (or restricted information) era for a few.