The previous section illustrated the double-edge effects of ICTs in the lives of Asian migrant women workers. On the one hand, ICTs play a positive role as they aid the migration process and help women mitigate the death-dealing conditions of migration. On the other hand, ICTs could turn migrant women’s dreams, and the migration process itself, into a nightmare. Worse, it reinforces gendered oppression. This section will explore the theological implications of such a double- edged role as described in the preceding section and from a feminist liberationist perspective.
Bridging the Digital Divide in the Age of Globalization
In a 1954 book that has been re-published a couple of times, Norbert Weiner argued that the integration of ICTs into society will constitute the remaking of society. In Weiner’s eyes, ICTs’ use in mainstream society will be the second industrial revolution, destined to affect every major aspect of life. He maintains that the effects are bound to be a multifaceted ongoing process that will radically change everything. He notes further we are “here in the presence of another social potentiality of unheard-of-importance for good and for evil.”27 As we look at the proliferation and the various ways in which ICTs are utilized in society today, one can say that Weiner is right on target with his analysis. ICTs have reshaped society and continue to bring radical changes that are for better or for worse.
One situation that calls for theological reflection, in the face of the popularity and critical roles that ICTs play in the search for a better life, is the digital divide. As Tyner’s study illustrates, this divide is reflected in the experience of poorer women migrants who may be less literate with ICTs, may not have greater disposable income to buy more advanced communication technologies, or may have less access to (either due to work constraints or host community policies) social services that provide greater or free access to ICTs, such as a public library with internet facilities.28 While migrant teachers in the United States or women migrants in skilled work in Hong Kong, for example, could more easily have e-mails, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter account and are able to buy both a smart (mobile) phone and a laptop, most migrant women workers in unskilled low-paid work would have to settle with a basic mobile phone that does not have capability for teleconferencing like Skype.29 This is significant since, as a visual and real time medium, teleconferencing has the potential to amplify emotional connections difficult to express in other venues. The case studies done by Anastasia Panagakos and Heather Horst, for example, show that teleconferencing is another important layer of connectivity for relatives living across distances.30 Alcanzo herself points out that the use of teleconferencing, which allows the users to see each other on the web camera, has made a significant impact in helping the migrant teachers with their adjustment problems since it provided them with the unlimited and free opportunity to communicate visually with loved ones back in the Philippines.31 Meanwhile, the digital divide becomes more problematic for migrant women in emergency situations and in conflict-ridden countries,32 where access to various ICTs is a matter of life and death.
This digital divide is also problematic as it creates a divide between the “information-have” and “have-nots.” Across and within Asian countries this divide continues to be wide,33 more so in the case of women. Indeed, availability and access to internet technology worldwide, as with other forms of electronic media, is largely governed by level of affluence. Most web-based recruitment agencies in Tyner’s study, for example, are cantered on the four more affluent countries of East and Southeast Asia such as Singapore and Taiwan. Tyner argues that this unequal spatial distribution reinforces the pro-employer and recruiter bias in communication via the internet, reducing the agency of workers. In Tyner’s words “as technology currently stands, and as the process is designed, the ‘voice’ of potential migrant workers is silenced.”34 Along this line of thinking, and in view of the fact that migrant women’s very capability to have access to ICTs facilitates migration, the digital divide is problematic as it denies possibilities and opportunities for millions of women who see migration as the only way out of poverty and the limitations of patriarchal families and societies.35 Indeed, while the overwhelming motivation for migration for most women is the desire to help the family, personal agendas ranging from the simple desire for travel/adventure or the more serious need to gain financial independence, or escape from a problematic family or marriage are often embedded into migration as a liberative project. The digital divide also has justice implications for women in general in view of the promise and opportunities ICTs offer women for socio-political networking.36
From a general perspective, the digital divide obviously constitutes a question of justice as it exacerbates existing social inequalities. In the 2012 Mobile World Congress, Google CEO Eric Schmidt noted that for five billion out of seven billion people in the planet “the web is still a scarce resource” and that the world needs to act now to prevent a “digital caste system.”37