Exploring the Future of the Digital Divide through Ethnographic Futures Research

Matthew Mitchell

Abstract



This study examines leaders who work for social change in an information society. Grounded in the notion that leadership and social change are necessarily future oriented, this study attempts to learn how those who lead the effort to ameliorate the digital divide in Washington State perceive the optimistic, pessimistic, and most probable futures. In this study, the digital divide is framed as a social problem that is caused, in part, by inequities in the ability to access and to use information communication technologies. Furthermore, this study is concerned that the digital divide impacts the opportunities for participation in social and economic arrangements, which may be a threat to social and economic justice.

Although the scope of the digital divide is global, this study narrows its focus in three ways. First, the digital divide is explored only within the context of Washington's sociocultural system. Second, only the perspectives of those who lead efforts to bridge the digital divide were sought. Third, only perceptions and cognitions of possible future sociocultural systems were explored.

The method used in this study is called Ethnographic Futures Research (EFR). EFR is a type of ethnography adapted for use in studying perceptions of a culture's future. Thirteen individuals who lead various efforts to bridge the digital divide in Washington State were interviewed using the EFR method. In each interview, three possible scenarios (optimistic, pessimistic, and most probable) of Washington State's sociocultural system set in the year 2016 were elicited. The interviewees then provided recommendations of what action is required to render the optimistic scenario more probable by the year 2016. The digital divide was discussed within the context of the future sociocultural systems described in the three scenarios and the recommendations.

The findings of this study include a) multiple definitions of the digital divide; b) descriptions of the forces perceived to be driving the digital divide; and, c) suggestions for future efforts to ameliorate the digital divide. A general discovery made by this study is that significant optimism exists that Washington State will build and maintain a more just and equitable sociocultural system in the future.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v7i11.1004



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