Digital Divide and Digital Citizenship

Digital Divide and Digital Citizenship
#Ideas #Events

The digital world offers incredible opportunities, facilitates processes and information exchange, reshaping our life dimension with stimuli and breaking down barriers. Yet, this doesn’t happen uniformly or equitably. We will discuss digital divide at the first “European Digital Citizenship Day,” led by Social Warning.

While some fully master digital tools, a significant portion remains excluded, with serious social and economic fallout. Are we truly ready for a fully digital era? Is such a scenario desirable? Do we possess the necessary knowledge and awareness for this to happen? For many, the answer is no. The digital divide is still too prevalent.

Globally, disparities are immense, from access to education and networks to restrictions by various regimes. Even algorithms often pose dangers, disguised as “user experience optimization,” actually aiming to alter our emotions, desires, and impulses.

Consider the challenges from age, education level, technical skills, and cognitive abilities, particularly in Italy.

In many parts of Italy, signal is absent, fiber-optic is lacking, and digital dowsers still search for at least 3G.

In a world where even obtaining a document at the registry office requires SPID registration, how do we address these issues? How do we ensure democratic access to information? If digitalization is essential, so is ensuring offline, analog information access. And what information do we truly access? If Google becomes the main search tool, we’ll always get the same results. An apparently infinite knowledge reduced to the first page of Big G. Somewhat sad, right?

The digital divide often relates to technological access, but as we see, the issue is more complex, calling for deeper reflection.

Let’s start with some concrete insights

Highlighting our situation regarding the digital divide, working daily with digital tools, we think we can reach anyone, anytime, anywhere. However, reality proves otherwise. Focusing on Italy, according to a recent Auditel-Censis report, nine million families live in total or partial exclusion from digital participation.

Scenarios vary: from those without continuous network access to those with low-quality connections, to smartphone-only access, to total exclusion. We can only imagine the social impact of such critical situations, especially during lockdowns. While measures limited Sars-Covid-2 spread, they also highlighted Italy’s severe infrastructural deficiencies. The digital divide might seem merely about tools and technology, but it also indicates a gap in digital world knowledge.

digital divide

Knowledge about digital (dis)connection

Developing digital awareness means acknowledging these situations. Limiting our view to connection benefits and problems doesn’t provide a full picture. Just as positivist literature focused on new techniques and social development, today’s narrative builds on technological progress as our savior. But is it really so?

We can know the best ways to leverage the digital world, aiding our daily lives and work, but we must also be aware of how the Web and social media can become cages.

Verga teaches us to look at those excluded from progress. These “defeated” who lacked the tools to fight now face an accelerated, complex world where our understanding and adaptation abilities are constantly stressed.

I had an eye-opening experience last summer. I met a 20-year-old Italian who spoke only his local dialect and insisted I was foreign because I spoke Italian with an Emilian accent. Moments before, I was discussing blockchain-based applications and the digital future, then found myself conversing with American and Australian tourists in English.

This showed me worlds that barely touch, unable to penetrate each other, with codes so different that verbal communication becomes impossible. I realized my ignorance and how much I could learn from that boy, living in a foreign dimension to me. This isn’t romantic nostalgia or fascination with the “noble savage.” He spoke of an unknown world to me, of gaming practices, pastimes, and silences unknown to me in those terms. Filters are too many, and associations with neorealism or Pasolini’s interviews in 1960s Italy were immediate. The digital divide isn’t a philosophical discussion; it deeply wounds society.

Let’s consider this example: living in a small mountain village with few shops, if I have internet access and know how to use marketplaces and digital payments, I can find any material good or high-quality service at lower costs. Otherwise, I’d be limited to the local commercial offer. But costs aren’t just economic, and the broader implications vary, leading us to question the closure of local businesses or why giant companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google benefit from surreal tax breaks (as Riccardo Staglianò explains well in “Gigacapitalisti”) while the local shopkeeper faces demotivating tax rates.

For now, we focus on aspects related to the reinforcement of disparities, simply for being or not being digital. Indeed, the digital divide isn’t just a cause of social exclusion: it’s also a symptom developing from pre-existing lacks, creating a vicious cycle increasingly hard to escape.

Can we all be digital European citizens?

This question is pertinent for October 22, European Digital Citizenship Day. Based on the above, we can be if we ignore and silence those struggling in a world demanding digital proficiency without providing the tools. We all likely have an elderly or digitally unskilled family member needing help with SPID or accessing online services.

Clearly, the answer goes beyond providing good connections and devices for network access.

Giving a power saw to both a carpenter and a social media manager, who are we more likely to find in the emergency room, possibly missing a finger? Right. A powerful tool in the hands of those without correct information for its use can become a weapon for harm. So, where to start in educating digital citizens, if not with teaching?

digital divide

Communicating the Future with the Digital Ethical Movement

The Digital Ethical Movement focuses on educating on digital tool usage. Davide Dal Maso, the movement’s creator, realized the inefficiency of digital awareness lessons often delivered by individuals far removed from current realities, unable to meet the real needs of digital native students, reducing web topics to pedophilia or cyberbullying, serious but thankfully residual issues compared to more widespread and complex problems.

How to recognize reliable information sources? How to maintain one’s privacy and respect others in a sharing-based reality? Why do social networks polarize opinions, making us less sensitive to diversity? These are some of the questions needing deeper exploration.

Dal Maso and the movement, including myself, decided to promote teaching involving peers and web professionals to provide targeted answers to students’ and parents’ continuously evolving needs. A dialogue, rather than a lesson, among youths, where everyone shares knowledge and is open to revising it.

Discussing the risks (without creating fear or alarm) and potentials (opening new perspectives) of the Web is possible. In my Digital Detox and digital wellness courses, I never suggest taking a month off in complete isolation in the wild. That’s no longer aligned with today’s world, which requires a certain level of connection for work and private life. Completely detaching from daily life isn’t the answer to changing habits, including digital ones. A detox moment can be helpful, but then it’s important to implement good daily habits, just like for those needing to lose weight or increase physical activity. A week of deprivation won’t suffice, but adopting virtuous behaviors daily allows for better and lasting results, and the occasional indulgence in a slice of cake or a lazy day. The first step is recognizing the need for change, then figuring out how to implement it.

This will be discussed on October 22 in Milan, a live event promoted by the Digital Ethical Movement to reflect on the relationship between education and digital citizenship, looking at the future of education in an evolving world, to ponder together how to stimulate intergenerational dialogue and the new responsibilities brought by online living.

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