The second stream of research that derives as part of my interest in the area of information policy is digital divide. My motivation to research the domain came again from questions of power and information, and more specifically the need to understand inequalities in distribution of information technology, its content, use and context. The interest in the topic was generated after I have participated in the World Summit of the Information Society I (WSIS-I) in December 2003 in Geneva and later in November 2005 in WSIS-II in Tunis. Then I was surprised to realize that stakeholders talk about the divide from different angles (e.g., financing, infrastructure and skills), but only rare attempts were made to construct an index that could measure the general concept of the digital divide. Consequently, my first step was to construct a comprehensive measurement index to the digital divide and to validate it.
The conceptual model of the digital divide suggested to look into this concept from a comprehensive way (see figure 1). The uniqueness of this project is by its focus on the skills, use and application of information and not only concentrating on more traditional digital divide definitions of access, which actually concentrate on infrastructure dimensions only.
The conceptual model was published as a paper in The Information Society journal –
Barzilai-Nahon Karine, 2006, “Gaps and Bits: Conceptualizing Measurements for Digital Divide/s”, The Information Society, Vol. 22(5), pp. 269-278
The paper received a lot of attention of practitioners, decision makers, media channels and academia. For example – around 30 newspaper articles introduced the research, and many blogs and professional networks discussed it.
The next phase of this conceptual model is to try to validate the index empirically. This phase might take few years. Before I continue to pursue this phase, I study in-depth specific factors and elements of the comprehensive model: Accessibility and Religiosity (what I call the ‘cultured technology’ project).
Both threads of research (the digital divide and the information control) ignited a lot of thoughts about self-regulation, and what the meaning of it to various communities. I am mainly interested in the power relations between the government, the communities’ regulators and their members. I added that to the topic of digital divide and consequently, I analyzed secluded communities, religious communities. This project presents a theoretical framework and an empirical investigation to understand the relationship between religious fundamentalist communities and the Internet, through addressing four dimensions of tensions and challenges: hierarchy, patriarchy, discipline, and seclusion. This new perspective sheds a new light over the abstract framework of gatekeeping and gatekeepers, by focusing on various aspects of information control in and through secluded communities. On the other hand, I embark on broadening the understanding of religiosity in context of digital divide and understanding digital divide challenges in such communities,
Prof. Gad Barzilai is my collaborator on this project. Together, we developed the concept of cultured technology, and analyzed the ways communities reshape technology and make it as part of their culture, while on the other hand allowing this technology to make certain changes in their customary way of life and in their unwritten laws. Later, we exemplified our theoretical framework through an empirical examination of ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel. Our empirical study was based on original dataset of 686,192 users and 60,346 virtual communities, while also relying on extensive literature review and secondary data. The results show the complexity of interactions between religious fundamentalism and Internet, and invite further discussions of cultured technology as a means to adapt Internet and to be adapted into it in various communities that incline to challenge technological innovations.
The project resulted in one refereed paper in The Information Society journal which was twice reprinted. The research gained a great deal of attention and was covered in 23 newspaper articles and was also covered in different news channels in Israel.
Here is a sample of the academic publications:
Barzilai-Nahon, Karine and Barzilai, Gad. 2005. “Cultured Technology: Internet and Religious fundamentalism“, The Information Society, Vol 21(1) (this article was also published in Hebrew in the ISOC-IL (Internet Society Association in Israel) Magazine, Vol.5(1))
This paper was also reprinted in: Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Barzilai Gad, 2007, “Cultured Technology: Internet and Religion fundamentalism“, in: Gad Barzilai (ed.), 2007 Law and Religion, Dartmouth/Ashgate, pp. 301-316
And translated to Hebrew:
Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Barzilai Gad, 2007, “Cultured Technology: Internet and Religious fundamentalism“, 2006, ISOC-IL (Internet Society Association in Israel) Magazine, 2006, Vol.5(1)
As part of the in-depth concentration in components that construct the digital divide, I am just starting a new project with a colleague from UBC, Prof. Izak Benbasat. In this study we try to understand the impediments to designing websites with accessibility features that are so important to people with disabilities.