Informational Inequality in a Nutshell

The sixth and last form of inequality is one we cannot miss in the Internet Age: informational inequality, the divide between the haves and have-nots of information and knowledge. There has been much written about the “digital div­ide” which privileges younger generations over older ones, digitized econ­omies with good broadband infrastructure over poor devel­oping countries, and so forth.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. This is the final post in a series on six forms of inequality. In the green box to the right, you can find the links to the full series.

The digital divide is, however, not always a straightforward issue of “inter­net access”. For instance, white US children spend on average 8.5 hours daily in front of a screen, while Hispanic and black children spend about 13 hours (wat­ching more TV, playing video games, social media etc.), with obvious negative effects upon physical and mental health as well as psycho-social development. The relationship to inform­ation and IT also reinforces inequalities.  Those stuck at the bottom of the “attentio­nalist econ­omy” are perpetually dist­racted from projects of self-empower­ment. The quality of their inform­ation flows and resulting world­views de­terio­rates, which feeds into economic and social capital: time is “wasted” and the ability to recognize emotional cues in facial ex­pression shrinks with ex­cessive screen-time. Too much screen-time also seems to increase the likeli­hood of developing ADHD, which in itself makes it diff­icult for you to economize that cardinal resource: your atte­ntion.[i]

At a more fundamental level, access to useful and reliable information is one of the greatest consequences of economic inequality. Financially strong actors will know the markets, prices, tax evasion strategies and so forth to a much greater extent than the weaker ones.

The well-positioned can buy expertise and process much larger flows of information, which plays out against the weak in favor of the strong. In its most salient form, this is true of the large internet com­panies, who own and manage vast quantities of personal informa­tion about people—incre­asingly knowing not only the markets, but the beha­viors of citizens and consumers, often much better than we know ourselves. Tinder can have literally 800 pages worth of very sen­sitive personal information if you’ve been on it for a few years.

Hence, informational inequality works through many different mech­an­isms. One such mechanism revolves around the powers of producers and large companies over consumers, with the latter by necessity having lesser access to relevant information, thus being easily manipulated in a myriad of ways.

And this dissymmetry of informational access plays out in a corres­pon­ding manner within the political arena as wealthy groups gain dispropor­tionally large political influence and misuse state institutions to pro­tect their interests, shaping media landscapes and curtailing the trans­parency of decision-making and bureaucracies.

And beyond that you have the general pattern that some people thrive in the information age, being able to critically evaluate and access vast am­ounts of information and creating vibrant networks of highly skilled coop­erators, whereas the less complex thinkers and less tech­nically apt fall prey to fake news, misinformation and waste their attention, time and money on things that don’t accumulate good results in their lives. This mechanism exacerbates the other forms of inequality, where the less edu­cated and more emotionally desperate are more easily exploited.

It is difficult to see how this rampant informational inequality can be curbed, but it certainly plays a part through its interactions with the other forms. We could imagine a future where internet access is readily avail­able and free around the globe and where basic education would equip us with at least some basic informational savvy, networking skills and critical judg­ment. We may also envision the growth of transnationally enforced infor­m­ational rights of world citizens.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Rideout, V. J, Foehr, U. G., Roberts, D. F., 2010. “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation.

About deteriorating emotional intelligence, see: Yalda, T. U. et al., 2014. Five Days at Outdoor Education Camp Without Screens Improves Preteen Skills with Non­verbal Emotion Cues. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 30, pp. 387-92.

About ADHD, see: Swing, E. L, et al, 2010. Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems. Pediatrics, vol. 126:2, pp. 214-21.