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- Building a wired community: social partnerships and the digital divide
- Thomas, Julian; Hopkins, Liza; Meredyth, Denise; Ewing, Scott; Hayward, David
- The paper describes the development, construction and consequences to date of a 'wired community' being created at Atherton Gardens, a low-income inner city public housing estate in Melbourne. This wired community, which will comprise almost 800 households, is the result of a complex partnership between a not for profit Internet Service Provider, other charitable organisations, local, state and federal government agencies, and the private sector. It aspires to improve the welfare of residents by creating new community interests, fostering local enterprise, and co-ordinating more effectively social services and support systems. Proponents of the network see computer access and connectivity as an important means of enhancing social and economic participation and self-help among a socially disadvantaged, economically depressed population. While a great deal has been written about the beneficial effects of electronic service delivery, detailed empirical research on the use and consequences of computer networks remains patchy, particularly amongst those who have not previously had access to such services. Much more work is needed to assess the effectiveness of various models for the provision of adequate hardware, software, training and education with which to begin to bridge the digital divide. This paper presents initial findings from a three-year research project looking at the new network at Atherton Gardens and the ways in which it is used, its complex genesis, and its impact on the culturally and linguistically diverse, socially disadvantaged population of the wired high rise. Such impacts might reasonably be expected to become apparent in the educational achievements of school children, in the adult education, training and employment outcomes and in the use which residents make of the intranet and internet as a means of accessing useful, comprehensible and timely information. A second and potentially much more interesting set of outcomes will be in the level of community participation and engagement which resident ownership of the network is expected to engender. Will the provision of online communication facilities increase social capital and connectedness in the ‘real’ world? A third set of outcomes, which is possibly the most interesting of all is that which cannot yet be predicted, as residents take up the opportunities the network makes available to them and then subvert, twist, interpret and use the system for their own purposes. It seems likely that middle class assumptions about what low income communities can, will and should do with technology may have little or nothing to do with the way those communities actually choose to use the system. The paper also examines some of the difficulties encountered in getting the project as far as it has already come, in light of the model of social partnerships under which it was constructed, and the differing expectations of the numerous partners involved.
- Publication type
- Conference paper
- Research centre
- Swinburne University of Technology. Institute for Social Research
- Paper presented at the Communications Research Forum, Canberra, 2-3 October 2002
- Publication year
- Department of Communications, Information Technology and The Arts
- Copyright © 2002 (Please consult authors). Paper reproduced here with the permission of the conference organisers.
- Full text
- Peer reviewed