Been undertaking some serious thinks in my Social Informatics course this spring, which has been blowing my mind on a regular basis. The conversation that is happening in that classroom is what I’ve really missed during library school — specifically the critical thinking and seminar style. Having the space and time to ramble broadly in a subject area, recollect my thinking, and plunk it all into a concise paper has been refreshing. I’ve loved all of the tech training so far, but this course was just what I needed to come full circle in the MLIS program.
I recently poked around in critical informatics for a paper to frame and think through how technology is being used to shape society. I looked at the use of electronic monitoring systems as ICTs, specifically examining the unchecked rise in parole sentencing involving locking ankle bands in the juvenile court system. Due to the constraints of the assignment I brought in some academic analysis/critique of the framing and history of the digital divide, and actually found some of the thinking to be surprisingly applicable:
“Although almost every state allows for electronic monitoring for youth, no existing data reflects precisely who is placed on electronic monitoring, in what circumstances, or for how long. Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, do not track the use of electronic monitoring in juvenile courts.” (Weisburd 2015, 306)
Held up next to Gangadharan’s article on the digital divide, similar conclusions rise on the lack of scrutiny over digital surveillance and the ways that it impacts the lives of low-income and marginalized populations. As though in direct response to Weisburd’s revelation on the lack of oversight over digital monitoring, Gangadharan offers the following: “[…] in a world where social prejudice can easily be grafted onto digital tools, members of chronically underserved communities are potentially prime candidates for exploitation: twenty–first century data profiling preys on those with little or no resources to identify and challenge abusive practices by state or corporate perpetrators.” (Gangadharan 2012, 2)
Eubanks’ observation that, “[p]ower and rights, like citizenship, are learned and practiced in relationship with others in the context of specific institutions. They are relational practices, not possessions” (Eubanks, 4) applies directly to the lives of low-income youth of color, who are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rate than their peers. These cases now widely involve electronic monitoring of in many forms, including direct movement tracking through GPS. Electronic monitoring introduces a constant physical reminder of the judgment placed on young people who already lack of power and autonomy within the system. It is also worth noting that many youth who enter the court system as minors experience highly unstable home lives and often struggle to maintain fractured relationships with their family members and guardians — by confining these already-fragile relationships to a mandated and digitally tracked house arrest, juvenile courts may be inadvertently exacerbating deeply problematic behavioral and psychological issues that faced at home.
Eubanks, V. E. (2007). Trapped in the Digital Divide: The Distributive Paradigm in Community Informatics. The Journal of Community Informatics, 3(2).
Gangadharan, S. P. (2012). Digital inclusion and data profiling. First Monday, 17(5).
Weisburd, K. (2015). Monitoring Youth: The Collision of Rights and Rehabilitation. Iowa Law Review, 101, 297-341.