Another dot in the blogosphere?

Thinking about digital access (Part 2): Humanware

Posted on: May 30, 2020

While it might have seemed like I was picking apart this opinion piece on providing universal Internet access yesterday, I support most of its ideas and the principles it was based on.

For example, one of the concepts was that it was not enough to simply provide devices and broadband connections to all households. We also need to drive behavioural change, e.g., utilising the connections and devices productively and ethically.

Providing hardware and software without good “humanware”* leaves users open to potential harm. For example, they might not know how to secure their devices against hacks.

Equitable access to broadband connections and devices also does not ensure access to information. Users need to be taught how to work remotely with secure video conferencing or to participate in online learning.

*I consider the practices, attitudes, and values that are socially transmitted and negotiated to be humanware.

One barrier to the installation of humanware is another divide: The access to timely advice and reputable sources of information. Consider the importance of using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

VPNs are not created equally even though most claim to provide secure and private Internet surfing experiences. Rerouted traffic goes through a VPN provider’s servers and what they do with all that data is not immediately transparent to the average user.

VPNs also allow users to access information they need or want even if an overriding policy prohibits it. This does not have to be an illegal act.

I have a Netflix subscription and was looking forward to the interactive episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. According to the actress who plays Kimmy, it was released in the USA over two weeks ago.

The episode has been delayed indefinitely in Singapore (see screen shot below).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive episode delayed.

This past week I visited Netflix hoping to watch the special episode. The page oscillated between displaying the “safety” message and telling me it was not available in my region.

I know Netflix dubs episodes in different languages to reach larger audiences, but the last time I checked, I spoke english in Singapore. I still do.

The rules for not streaming the interactive episode were not known, they prevented access, and they did not make exceptions. This was despite the comedy being mild. How mild? This IMDB parent’s guide stated that “’Shit’ is used once in season 4.”

I resorted to using my VPN service to watch the episode. As it was a choose-your-pwn-adventure special, I watched it with my wife to enjoy the different routes it took.

So what it my point? VPNs provide access to what you want or need even when obtuse or outdated policies hold you back. In my case, I enjoyed some harmless entertainment. In the case of a worker or student, a good VPN might not only provide a more secure web browsing experience, it could also provide a richer one. But only if this humanware is first installed and constantly updated.

Access is not just about the hardware and software, it is also about the know-how and know-why of humanware.

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