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GrahamLally is bigging up bigging up DavidWilcox's blog (which which) looks interesting.

The question of the day is "Does it matter if people don't want to use the web."

Wilcox makes a comparison : governments fund public transport because not everyone drives. Equally shouldn't they support those who don't want to use the net?

I think this misses some crucial detail. Government should fund public transport because :

  • not everyone can afford to own and run a car
  • not everyone is physically or mentally able to drive
  • public transport is less destructive to the environment than individual cars
  • good public transport creates more public space which is good for the fabric of society and city.

On the other hand, if these issues didn't obtain, I don't see that government would have an obligation to fund public transport simply as a life-style choice for those too lazy or inebriated to drive. Just as there's no need for it to provide stables for those who prefer horse-drawn carriages.

Government's obligation to other media should depend on whether

  • a) those other media are in some sense better for society, or
  • b) there are good reasons people can't use the web.

I can't, off the top of my head, think of any reason for a).

There are technical and financial obstacles, b) but as I mention in DigitalDivide, I think they're only here for the short-term. In the not too distant future web access will be comparable to radio / TV / newspaper / phone access in terms of price and ease of use. Then the big problem will be culture and time to engage and gain the benefit from the net.

The obvious place where government has a clear obligation is in literacy. You need to be literate to use the web.

But there's another fundamental issue. The web is famously a LeanForward, active medium, whereas TV is passive and LieBack. The question then becomes, does the government have an obligation to provide information in a form for easy assimulation by the passive?

Actually I don't have an answer to that question.

What about this? In principle, I believe TheRightToVote should carry responsibility to understand what you are voting for, and to maintain yourself informed. And plausibly, the internet is the only medium which can keep you sufficiently informed about the complexities of the world. (The attraction of TV to many might be that it carries very little information.)

In practice, I don't believe there's any way to enforce this understanding that doesn't introduce some highly undemocratic exam to demonstrate worthiness to vote.

But maybe the government doesn't have any duty to support passive, low information media either.

Nah ... still unhappy with this answer.

Regarding that list...

  • not everyone can afford to own and run a computer/network connection
  • not everyone is able to install their own computer (although this raises an interesting point - below)
  • a single, public computer is less destructive to the environment than a multitude of personal computers
  • good public network access creates more public space which is good for the fabric of society and city

Regarding point #2, should therefore the government place more of an emphasis (than, say, it already does) on getting net access to those who would normally have difficulties? Should the government, for example, fund the provision of screen readers, or offer incentives for accessible websites? (Hmm, do they do that already? I haven't heard any such thing, only that sites can get sued for not being accessible, which is partly this.)

The important thing to remember is that the government should serve the people, and as such it should provide access if enough people want or need access, but cannot do it by themselves. Democracy isn't just a vote, it's a process. Of course, the problem with enough people saying they want something via the government, is that then of course, all those that don't want it will ask why they're paying for it, yadda yadda blah blah. (Personally I'd be proud if my taxes meant more blind people could access the net, but c'est juste moi.)

Is this just a democracy vs insight debate? :) Numbers vs reasoning, et al. Does a truly-democratic government have any "obligations" at all? Or just majority whims?

Hmm, one could also separate out the roles of the government in IT provision:

  • responsibility to provide access to the technology itself
  • responsibility to determine how people use the technology

There is much talk of how the government should provide access, but not much of why it should from the government's point of view. In reality, policies are decided according to the leanings of those in power. Much of the almost-anarchic talk and wishing coming from lower down in the ladder may reach its goals far more quickly, and far more wholesomely, if the government is actually left out of the planning, assuming that the momentum to create organisations from scratch using new technology is less than getting the current government to reform into something that fits the technology. In that case, with whom do either of the responsibilities above lie?


I'm not entirely convinced the metaphor comparing internet use to learning to drive is useful... the analogies don't hold up, even if you limit the discussion to access of e-government services.

: driving own car::public transportation as computer skills::access to public information? hmm...

I think things change if you compare the Internet to another communication technology: the phone. No, most people don't like to talk on the phone, can't afford a phone, can't speak; but having access to a phone can be a crucial for people to gain access to many government services, among other things.

Anyway, just a thought. – HeatherJames

But the government does nothing for people who don't like to talk on the phone. So this brings nothing to the argument from the beginning of this page. – ZbigniewLukasiak

See also MediaInConflict, HandheldDeviceToTeachChildrenToRead, PoliticalStuff

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