Fabrication Divide

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By Kali Akuno and Gyasi Williams, for Cooperation Jackson:

"In order to make the future that we want, we have to openly confront the stark problems already at the heart of the Third Digital Revolution, and there are several glaring problems already in plain sight. Despite great efforts toward democratizing the Third Digital Revolution by making much of the technology “open source”, historically oppressed and disenfranchised communities remain excluded. The same access gulf seen in the current “digital divide” is being replicated and deepened. Instead of a ubiquitous transformation, with equal access and distribution, what in fact is emerging is a “fabrication divide”.

This divide is layered, multi-dimensional, and compounded. The first and obvious barrier to access is cost. Those who can afford the machines will eventually be able to produce whatever they want, while those who can’t will remain dependent on the inequitable market, the forces that manipulate it, and the increasingly antiquated methods of production they employ to produce their consumer goods. While this revolution is spurred on by the dropping cost and rapid development of fabrication technology, indigenous and working-class Black and Latin-x populations will still find themselves at least a step behind as the cost of early adoption will continue to advantage the already privileged.

The issues of cost and accessibility lead directly to a discussion of class. The working class is almost always alienated from the market mechanisms that enable people to take the best advantage of emerging technology. Further still, the dismantling of society by the neoliberal project has eroded the bonds of social solidarity and eradicated the safety nets created through working-class political victories. The emergence of the Third Digital Revolution within this socio-political context will only widen the inequality and access gaps that already exist. For example, the recent elimination of net neutrality combined with years of starving public schools of funding and eviscerating city services ensures that libraries and any other public services that once helped to counterbalance the technological gaps experienced by the working class during the latter half of the 20th century are becoming ineffective or altogether nonexistent.

While there has been a great deal of public discussion about the advance of the Third Digital Revolution and what benefits and threats it potentially poses, there has been little discussion about racial inequity within the Third Digital Revolution. Without a major structural intervention, the Third Digital Revolution will only exacerbate the existing digital divide. Again, here the problem is layered and compounded, for the advances in automation and artificial intelligence that the Third Digital Revolution will advance will disproportionately eliminate many of the low-skill, low-wage manual labor and service sector jobs that historically oppressed communities have been forced into over the last several years. Given some projections of massive job loss due to automation, there is a real question about whether the potential benefits this transformation could have will outweigh the severe pain and loss Indigenous, Black and Latinx working-class populations will face as this technology advances.

Even less discussed than the class and race-based impacts of the Third Digital Revolution are the gender disparities that are likely to deepen if there is no major intervention in the social advance of this development. Despite recent advances, it is no secret that women are grossly under-represented in the technological and scientific arenas. The question is, how can and will the gender inequities be addressed in the midst of the social transformations stimulated by the Third Digital Revolution? Will the existing gender distribution patterns remain, be exasperated, or will they be eliminated?" (http://www.cooperationjackson.org/blog/2018/1/7/countering-the-fabrication-divide-4?)

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