Ubiquitous = Access?

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In a recent post, entitled “Another Side of China“, I wrote about how the Chinese government is determining what cartoons will be shown on prime time TV to protect its own industry. As we all know, the Chinese government is also monitoring and censoring certain Internet content, including parts of Google and Yahoo. More recently, a similar debate has started around Wikipedia’s entry into China. Today, I ran into an issue related to this, this time with access to Internet content of an academic nature. I was contacted by a Chinese master’s student who was looking for a few dissertations written by doctoral students in the U.S. She had the titles but could not get access to the full documents, or even an abstract. I ended up finding abstracts for her and sent them to her via email, as I couldn’t do it through MSN.

I started thinking more about this later in the day, and I now wonder if the Chinese government is blocking certain academic content in order to protect China’s research by forcing Chinese scholars to predominantly look at Chinese research. Obviously, for teaching and learning purposes, this is not a good thing, as it narrows the body of knowledge you have access to. In that respect, we are pretty spoiled in the U.S., as access to information is much easier.

However, the whole net neutrality issue could change that in the U.S. (I blogged about that in the post “Threats to Ubiquitous Computing“). In a way, a loss of net neutrality would have a similar effect to access to information via the Internet, in that certain content would be very difficult or impossible to access for people who have a slow connection (think media content like video). And even though this would not be a form of censorship by the government, if the government is going to allow the creation of a tiered system of access, it would certainly be condoned by it.

Either way, whether content would be completely blocked (as in China), or made virtually inaccessible (as may happen in the U.S.), ubiquitous access to technology does not necessarily equal ubiquitous access to information. This is something that learners of all ages should know about and realize when they access the deluge of information we call the Internet. In the back of your mind, you should always wonder what information is NOT there, and who is responsible for that. However, as in the example I described here, sometimes technology does provide you with ways to access what you normally couldn’t…

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