Thursday, October 23, 2008

Castells' Binary Logic of Inclusion/Exclusion

I read with interest Castells' hypothesis on pg.23 that discusses a structural feature of the network... one that, "allows the network to search for valuable additions everywhere and to incorporate them, while bypassing and excluding those territories, activities and people that have little or no value for the performance of the tasks assigned to the network."

Networks, according to Castells, work on the basis of a binary logic of inclusion/exclusion, to gain position, to communicate and to outcommunicate.

I have to admit that I really dislike the idea of excluding people in society. It's possible that I feel that way because I have regularly been a part of the excluded. As a tribal member having grown up on a reservation and later having worked on another reservation, I am well aware of how certain groups are excluded and often, in my opinion, they are excluded for no particularly good reason except the lack of money.

As I read the section on Russia it occurred to me that their lack of infrastructure and access was similar to what many tribal members face living on remote reservations. Companies that offer broadband services or cable T.V. do not see reservation communities as particularly desirable in terms of their size and probable number of new customers, especially when considering the cost of bringing the technology to remote areas.

The lack of technology or "network" connection can have many adverse affects. I worked as the Education Director for the Lac du Flambeau tribe, which is located in northern Wisconsin, for the past 14 years. In that role, I saw first-hand what happens to people who are excluded from the "network". It was not uncommon for at least 50 percent of my students, especially those aged 30 and up, not to have an e-mail address. About 80 percent lacked a computer of any sort and relied on the computers of friends, relatives or the local library to check their free e-mail accounts or to do their homework. Of course, this also hinged on transportation. If an individual does not have a car and lives 17 miles from town, access to a computer becomes a once a week luxury rather than a daily or hourly necessity.

While television access is not usually considered a luxury, it can be in rural, remote locations. There was cable T.V. service in Lac du Flambeau until about four years ago when road construction disrupted the service and the company went bankrupt. Since then tribal members have had to use rabbit ear or roof mounted antennas or subscribe to satellite. Satellite service was of course limited to those individuals who actually had a credit card for payment.

Lack of credit and poor financial literacy greatly affects an individual's access to technology. About 40 percent of my students had no telephone access and relied on friends and relatives' cell phones as contact numbers. Some 90 percent of my students had no checking or savings accounts. Many did not have tax forms from the previous year, or copies of their employment, unemployment, social security or social services income forms. Due to lack of computer or internet skills, getting copies of these forms was often difficult, which made filling out their federal application for student financial aid challenging. Of course I bring all this up to characterize the roadblocks encountered when living and functioning in a world of network exclusion.

Castells points out that the global network society is dominant over activities and people who are external to the networks(p.23). In the case of rural reservations where access to technology is limited and financial literacy is rare, tribal members pay the price by being unable to apply for financial aid, by not being able to easily participate in online courses, by paying high interest rates on tax-season loans because they have no checking or savings accounts for electronic payments and must either take out a short-term loan or wait six or more weeks for a paper check to arrive in the mail.

I hope that somehow the global network society finds a way to include the excluded. Unfortunately, I believe that until individuals who are currently being excluded can be seen as having value for the capitalistic society we live in, the status quo will remain. Exclusion means continued road blocks to entry into universities. Exclusion also means that creating new businesses will be hampered due to lack of infrastructure, lack of credit history, lack of computer skills and lack of external support which will continue to discourage any form of upward mobility.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I heard this week of tribal members trying to vote early in the South Dakota. It's similar to what you're saying, here's the story:

We have a double exclusion going on in our dance group right now. The older people who might want to DJ don't understand the computer, so we don't want to switch the whole operation over to Itunes and mp3s (although every other group I know of has). However, because we're still using tapes, and there's some unique system to how we rewind, copy, organize, and play with the speeds on them, I now have a steeper learning curve if I want to DJ. What's keeping them in is keeping me out, and vice versa. It's not that dire though, I'm willing to learn the old system. I have similar issues with fax machines: I'd much rather scan and email, but not everyone is ready to do that. When I try, my faxes never seem to go where they're supposed to. I'm not sure you can expect everyone to know all these different technologies. Could technology just slow down?