As a History with Integrated Masters student, picking a placement that would involve research appears to be the natural progression from academia out into the world of work. I worked with Community Arts North West (CAN), a Manchester based arts development organisation, on a digital arts and communities research project, and was tasked to investigate available digital media resources and conduct research on the issue of the digital divide. As a second-generation immigrant, I was drawn, on a more personal level, to CAN’s mission to help marginalized communities achieve their full potential through creative arts projects. Since it seemed natural to move from one research project to another, I donned my detective hat and proceeded to put my research skills to the test.
As you are currently reading this blog post, you will more than likely have easy access to the Internet. Imagine for a moment what it would be like without access to the Internet, or a computer, or to your friends on Facebook… It’s hard to imagine life without a computer, right? Consider for a moment that there are people that are leading lives while still remaining offline. I assume you will likely be a fellow student (and on the chance that you aren’t, this anecdote doesn’t work as well, so please pretend, for a moment, that you are…). You will more than likely have grown up alongside the growth of the Internet. You are a digital native, and you will more than likely have seen digital immigrants baffled by the projector, or any other type of technology. Maybe it was your lecturer’s confusion that you just recalled, or on a different note, you too are a second-generation immigrant and you will (possibly) have a parent that remains offline while you handle the increasing amount of governmental services that have moved online. From bills to job applications, the Internet is vastly expanding in uses, yet there are still people unsure how to work a computer. This is the digital divide. In this highly connected world of the 21st Century, people are being left behind.
The digital divide is however not just a question of access. As I was also tasked to create lists of locally available digital media resources, to my surprise, I realised they were not hard to find at all. As a History student and long time Mancunian who was not musically inclined, I was amazed to unearth this other world right under my eyes. I found studios and other creative projects that helped showcase the talent and culture that our city was nurturing within its own community. However, when resources were so available, why does this divide still exist? This was where my research was put to use. By delving into theory and its applications in other countries, it was then easy to see that previous attempts to bridge the digital divide had focused on the wrong solutions. Marginalized communities required the confidence to begin their initialisation into the digital arts world. Though awareness of resources had to be created first, enthusiasm has to be nurtured. With the growth of the Internet and the arts into the digital venue, there is no better time than now to encourage a mutual dialogue of respect between those who choose to remain offline and those who have lived their lives alongside the growth of the Internet. The project to bring marginalized communities online begins with projects like CAN’s Do I.T. training course, but continues when digital natives, like ourselves, nurture the online community into becoming one of positive encouragement.