chapter  2
10 Pages

7 Debating the capacity of information and communication technology to promote inclusion

ByJANE MAIDMENT, SELMA MACFARLANE

Discussion around the use and impact of information and communication technology (ICT) has created polarised debates about the potential of ICT to generate inclusion or exclusion. Computer mediated communication is variously heralded as a means of transcending ‘sociocultural markers such as race and gender … lead[ing] to a utopian society’, and denigrated for creating ‘impoverished, low-trust relationships at best and social withdrawal, at worst’ (Markham 2005: 794). Similarly, it is argued that the plethora of information available via ICT can break down hierarchical access to information and power previously dependent on social position. Conversely, however, others observe that ICT has created new inequalities based on the information rich and the information poor, and one’s position in controlling, or being controlled by, technological advancements. As Markham (2005) comments, such universalised and dichotomised opinions have been usefully extended to include more specific, context-based analyses, acknowledging a complex range of processes and outcomes associated with ICT in various settings. This chapter explores this diversity and some of the ways ICT has impacted on human service education, professional development, and the provision of services in specific contexts. We attempt to identify ways in which ICT may lead to social inclusion and/or exclusion for social groups with varying access to ICT. The chapter begins with an exploration of the digital divide in the Aus-

tralian context. This discussion is followed by an examination of online education, professional development and the capacity of ICT to enhance the well-being of practitioners. The chapter then focuses on the use of ICT in human services and the rise of computer mediated self help and support groups. The potential for ICT to promote and extend political participation is also explored as well as the role of ICT in global development. Throughout, the potential for inclusion and exclusion is highlighted, using examples, and critical analysis for exploring the inclusionary and exclusionary capacity of ICT.