Magazine article Information Today

Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age

Magazine article Information Today

Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age

Article excerpt

Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age

by William W resch

New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press 1996 Hardcover ISBN: 0-8135-2369-9 Paperback ISBN: 0-8135--2370-2 268 Pages Hardcover, $55.00 Paperback, $17.95

Who needs e-mail when you cannot read? William Wresch discovered this, among other discrepancies of the Information Age, while teaching in Africa. Professor of mathematics and computing at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he spent the 1993 academic year at the University of Namibia on a Fulbright fellowship. While there, he investigated the state of information technology and access in Africa.

What he found surprised him: a great disparity in information access. Some Africans have access to e-mail, CDROMs, sophisticated computer systems, and telecommunications technology. Others face numerous barriers, including illiteracy, in getting information of any kind. Disconnected is filled with fascinating examples of information-handling problems from around the world.

Wresch identifies five basic types of information: public media, personal, organizational, professional, and commercial. Each of these has its own particular problems in transmission and reception. The public media (television, newspapers) are subject to intense government control and regulation, if people even have access to them. Personal information depends heavily on the user's individual acquaintances, which in turn depend on the user's level of education and access to means of communications like telephones.

Organizational information access relies on the desire of the organization, whether a government or a private corporation, to reveal information about itself. This disclosure is encouraged more in some countries than in others. Professional information is expanding at an incredible rate but often excludes data from researchers working in developing countries. Commercial information is more available to those who can afford to pay for it. It is also generally produced for profit. Thus, information that users are willing to pay for is more readily available.

Isolation Creates Information Exiles

Not surprisingly, those unable to pay for access do not get access. Wresch presents a chapter on each of these five types, with in-depth discussions and many examples. Wresch also distinguishes specific problems in the transmission and reception of information. "Information exiles" are unable to access information because of isolation factors such as poverty, lack of education, poor communications technology, and language problems. …

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