Recently I got access to digital cable its not something that I pay for, but is a nice perk provided by my generous landlady. It made me realize that I am on the über-privileged side of the digital divide: hundreds of TV channels, broadband internet connection. I also have access to non-public material sites such as on Salon and AOL Then through my work I have Westlaw and Lexis passwords, and free interlibrary loans within reason.
My point isnt to brag, but I can say that I have access to a lot of stuff which is out of reach of less privileged people. Before I had access, I had no idea of the type of things that I was missing. Im disturbed to see how effective technology has been in separating information from the haves and have-nots. Ten years ago in Australia, there was no pay-TV and barely a world-wide web (and what there was limited to educational and scientific purposes). The main sources of information were printed publications and the free broadcast media of radio and TV. I know printed magazines and journals have never been exactly cheap, but many of these were freely usable in public and academic libraries.
Is there any way of categorizing information as essential or non-essential information? I wonder if there are some types of information particularly legal and governmental - which all people have a right to access and use in a free society. Especially when society says that ignorance is no excuse for not obeying the law and everyone has equal rights & duties in the political process, irrespective of their income. So does mean that everything else would be non-essential information entertainment for which it is entirely fair that people pay for. Im not sure if theres a clear dividing line between whats essential and whats entertaining. For example, national (and especially local) news provide information without which it would be very difficult to participate in the political process, but they also contain entertainment sections. And if news is essential, then what about magazines or lifestyle programmes aimed at particular groups women, men, different ethnic groups these may contain more entertainment than news, but what news they cover might be the only way that their particular constituents access any news.
Another quandry is with the arts, sciences and other academic disciplines. If its in societys interests that all people are able to make advances in the arts, sciences and other fields of learning, how is this possible if only elites have access to this material? Are we saying that only the elites those with the means to pay for this material have anything to contribute in these areas and that the poor deserve to shut out? Or do we think that great art can happen in a vacuum and that it is not necessary to know of whats been tried before?
The point of all these unanswerable questions is that libraries are the buffer zones or safety net, if you want a different metaphor of the digital information divide. Fund public libraries adequately, and you wont need to answer these questions about who is worthy enough to receive which information. Most importantly, libraries are no longer about books. They are just not about books, microfiche, videos, audio tapes, CDs, DVDs or online databases important as all these things are. Libraries are repositories of information, in whatever form. In an ideal world (and I am allowed to be idealistic and naive sometimes), libraries would collect all useful information which has been broadcast (via TV, radio or the web) and is not otherwise available in fixed formats, such as tapes or discs produced by the broadcaster. </idealism>: Of course, this is not going to happen because of two big reasons. Firstly, libraries are currently too understaffed and underfunded to imagine adding this to their workload. Secondly, this would be against existing copyright laws.
I wrote earlier about the unlikely story of how I first experimented with AOL. Im surprised to say that I still use it from time to time on a plan which gives me a very small number of dialup access hours. The reason is that now my iBook doesnt seem to work well with any other dialup ISP. I would be tempted to think that this is something that AOL did to my computer, except that I remember that this problem predated the first time that I used AOL. Its probably a hardware problem but because most of the time I use a broadband connection without any problems on my iBook Im reluctant to send it in if its not really urgent.
My first use of AOL coincided with the beginning of the Iraq war. At the time I noticed a real pro-war bias in the way the war news was reported. Its interesting to see how this has changed lately.
Am I paranoid to wonder if AOL Time Warner decided to pander to the governments dogs of war in the lead up to the execrable FCC decision about media ownership, to show the Republicans in power that big media could be supportive of their interests? And that now the FCC rules have been released, AOL Time Warner can be a little more centrist (definitely not left-wing).
Postscript: Along with the Salon article, AOL had one of their ubiquitous polls. The question was along the lines of Who is more patriotic? a) the Left, b) the Right, c) Neither each side is patriotic but they have different opinions. My recollection of the result was that almost 50% answered C for neither, 40% answered B for the Right and a measly 10% chose A for the Left.
I chose the Neither answer because I do think that many of the Right-wingers genuinely care for their country, even if their methods or goals are misguided. My reading of this poll and be assured that I dont put too much stock in its results is that people on the left are more reasonable and are mature enough to admit that the other side might sometimes have a point, or at least a legitimate concern. Whereas people on the right (I choose not to call them Conservatives because they a radical agenda of tearing up long-standing social supports and threatening civil liberties) are more fanatical and refuse to see any good in their opponents or flaws in themselves. I know, its kind of petty to be fighting over the high moral ground but its still legitimate point. What do you do against an opponent who refuses to play fairly? Do you to stick to your principles and lose (praying that someday the wrongs will be righted) or adopt their rough-handed tactics in the hope of beating them at their own game?
It’s a chicken or the egg type question – did Safari come about because Microsoft was not working on new versions of IE for Mac, or did Microsoft stop working on IE for Mac because Apple started competing with Safari?
When Safari first came out, I was annoyed. First of all, it had that tiresome brushed metal interface (although I’ve since found out that this can be removed with Metalifizer). Secondly, it made me concerned the other Mac browsers, such as Opera, OmniWeb and Camino wouldn’t be able to compete. Although I like all the software which Apple throws in with its computers, I want there to be a viable market for third party software developers for the Mac.
I’ve since come to like Safari. I think that it’s arguably the best free browser for any operating system. It’s very fast – both to load and for browsing. It has tabs and it renders pages very nicely.
Overall, I still prefer Opera 6 for Mac for the following reasons.
I already paid for it, so might as well get my money’s worth
I really, really like some of Opera’s time-saving shortcuts: how you can use the “z” and “x” keys as backwards & forwards buttons; how you select the location bar by just pressing F8 (in this way, it’s much better than Safari, which makes you drag over the whole URL or press Command-L); how bookmarks can be given brief nicknames which retrieve the bookmarked site when entered into the location bar; full screen browsing is easily turned on or off with F11.
Opera’s not without its problem. It takes more time to load than Safari – which I can forgive because Safari’s got an innate advantage in this area. The most two severe problems are that less pages seem work in Opera than Safari and that it is more prone to crash than Safari. These are major problems, and if they continue to get worse, I will reluctantly have to switch to Safari.
Macintouch has had some interesting postings concerning the fall out from Microsoft’s decision to discontinue developing IE for Mac. There is concern because some sites, notably online brokerages internet banking sites, only work with IE. People are worried that if IE for Mac atrophies, Mac users will be shut out of many sites because so many lazy web developers design only for IE.
I think that there is a little bit of panic occurring with this issue. There are already sites which only work well with IE 6.x for Windows, not IE 5.2 for Mac. By the way, my credit union’s internet banking and online bill paying works well with just about any web browser. If the big, mean banks and brokerage firms are being troglodytes about only supporting IE, I say that Mac users should take their business elsewhere – especially to credit unions which have lower fees and are usually more responsive to their customers.
If you dont use Internet Explorer for Windows, you are on the margins of the internet. Its kind of like being a non-American in our unipolar world. The mighty behemoth, IE does what it likes. Standards be damned, its practices are the de facto standards which matter.
Im in charge of a web site and know first-hand how tedious it is develop a site which works tolerably well for almost all browsers, without being intolerably bland. I recently had a discussion/argument with a respected colleague about this issue. He said that there are so many different permutations of browsers, that getting our sites to work for all of them is an exercise in futility which leads to the dreaded Lowest Common Denominator. For me, this is not an all or nothing matter. I try to support what I subjectively think are the main types of people on the web and the browsers they often choose.