I’ve got a nice anecdotal evidence of the fact that digital divide is easier to bridge than social divide. Two years ago, I applauded the initiative « Internet de rue » (Internet-in-the-street?) by a French non-profit. They went to extremely poor families near Paris and provided them with access to Internet technology and used that opportunity for developping relationships with these families and see if and how technology can be used for social purposes aimed at reducting poverty. Some of these families were romanian gypsies who emigrated to France. One of the families asked about the feasibility of sharing family pictures via the Internet with the rest of the family who stayed in a Romanian village (Garla Mare, Mehedinti region). Therefore, I published a call to any volunteer who could visit that Romanian village and organize some kind of community Internet workshop for the benefit of these families both in France and in Romania (the French non-profit would do the French side of the operation). I later tried to do something with colleagues located in Bucarest. All of this lead to no concrete result at the time. The digital divide seemed wide and difficult to bridge.
Recently, that old blog call for volunteers generated some discussion with (non-gypsy) Romanians who expressed their indignation and anger of being possibly confused with gypsies by « people from rich countries » at various (which is really a stupid confusion). That discussion also dealt with how gypsies are victims of social exclusion possibly based on racial grounds but also based on blunter considerations such as « gypsies being recognized for their criminal behaviors and dirtyness » and some gypsies « living in palaces while still being said to be living in poverty ». I felt shocked by the arguments being used in that discussion. I can now guess that most Romanian would probably refuse being in touch with gypsy families. This social exclusion phenomenon is what I call the social divide in that case.
Which is the most difficult divide to bridge? The digital one (Internet connectivty, access to equipment and training) or the social one (exclusion, communautarism, possibly racism)?
Finally, a Romanian colleague of mine is providing the anecdotal evidence that the social one may be the most prevallent:
:)) I think I’ve won the bet.
Here is a link about the internet in Mehedinti:
On paragraph 2 is saying that as part of a program EuDiS, Garla Mare is one of the villages where the Internet on fibre-optic is available from 2006 and it is free in the school. :))
What’s next? Assuming that the family located in France can still be contacted by the French non-profit (which is much unsure because they move a lot of course) and that their Romanian counterpart is still located in or near Garla Mare, access to Internet technology is now available at low cost to both of them. But who would bridge the remaining social gap? Is Romanian Internet connectivity accessible to Romanian gypsies in the same village or area? Is the gypsy/non-gypsy social divide that strong that gypsy families in Garla Mare would not get access to the network? Will some social hero appear in that story and finally connect the unconnected?
While comfortably sitting in my French and cosy armchair, I’ll tell you the rest of the story as it flows into reality… ;)