The digital divide, organized labor, and smart mobs

The “digital divide” is being discussed on Margin Walker right now.
Josh says:

a) Is the digital divide problem worth becoming involved in?
b) If so, is it something we can actually help with?
c) If so, what do we do?”

My response:
The digital divide, in non-post-industrial Western capitalist societies, is being bridged as we speak, through programs like GeekCorp (just one of many similar projects), the spread of cell phones, and other mobile computing devices.
The results, as mentioned earlier, will probably include even more outsourcing of our current jobs. But other results will include new information driven businesses, more productivity in agricultural industries, and people organizing on a global level in new ways.
I expect to see a new global organized labor movement. As Abe said on his site, “Organized labor still has the potential to be a vital force in the world. They can present a strong counteracting force to maneuvers of corporations, governments, and other mass groups.”
American companies started outsourcing their manufacturing work because it was cheaper to pay people in third world nations than to pay union workers. Workers in these countries were generally happy to have steady work, even if the pay and conditions were appalling by our standards. And they were afraid to organize because these companies could move to another impoverished nation. But as tech becomes cheaper, it will become possible for people from around the world to organize and create large, global unions.
Is there something we can do? I dunno. Volunteer with organizations to be build the infrastructure, teach some literacy. It won’t take a whole lot, private industry is building the cell phone infrastructure, and kids don’t need a lot of tutoring to learn the basics of computing. The revolution will have to come from the people in these countries, and not from us. It won’t be American consumer activists that get Starbucks to serve only fair traded coffee, it will be coffee pickers who finally say “enough is enough” and get together and quit picking coffee until they get paid more.
In America, we’re adapting to the loss of a lot of manufacturing, call center, and programming jobs. Many of these people displaced by outsourcing are moving into the service industry. Rob Walker says: “…you could argue that no-benefits line cooks, bike messengers and temps add up to new blue-collar equivalents.” We’ll probably see more service industry unions. These are more prevalent in other countries than in America right now, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing them grow more powerful in America.
What can we do here? I guess keep on doing the stuff that we (the sort of people who read Margin Walker) do. Make art. Make social software. Come up with stuff to do with social software. Keep trying to get this stuff into people’s hands.
Beyond that, I don’t know. Next time we go to Starbucks we can suggest to the kid who makes our latte that she start a union.

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