Social Environment

The social environment provides the social, economic and legal environment in which the technological layers operate. We restrict our discussion to two highly relevant components of the social layer: socio-economic factors and legal-institutional.

Social and Economic Factors

The most fundamental aspect of ICTs is “not so much the availability of the computing device or the Internet line, but rather people’s ability to make use of that device and line to engage in meaningful social practices” (Warchauer, 2003). It is the process of applying a particular literacy (such as reading, numeracy or technological literacy) in a social context as well as the social development that is intertwined and co-constituted along with an increase in a particular literacy that determine a person’s capacity to interact with these technologies (Warchauer, 2003). Issues of literary also pertain to the dominant language(s) used on the Internet (English, Chinese, etc.). Translation into local languages remains a critical step to lowering the barriers to entry for people of developing nations, and also raises technological challenges such as incorporating local languages meaningfully into links, tags and URLS (currently the URL system employed on the Internet cannot even handle accents in Western script).

Other critical social issues pertain to gender, race, class and culture. Especially in developing countries this includes issues of access for marginalized or disempowered groups within a society based on their gender or class relative to the empowered groups. Finally, there is a psychological component to openness. As openness moves towards increased participation and collaboration, there a shift from control to trust as a means of social organization. Not only is this reflected in organizational forms, but it might require a particular psychological disposition and value set in the people who are participating.

Legal-institutional Factors

The legal-institutional factors determine the basic social understanding of how content can be used, shared, and appropriated and the degree to which these legal rights protect or favour the creator versus the consumer of content. The central idea here is intellectual property (IP). IP law was developed to provide incentive for creativity and innovation by protecting creative works from unlawful appropriation. However, applied excessively, intellectual property laws can stifle creativity and innovation by locking up access to ideas and innovations upon which others can build and adapt in new creative and innovative ways (Lessig, 2001). Indeed, the history of inventions, science and culture is one of standing on the shoulders of giants – reusing or building upon the work of previous creators and innovators in new ways.

The recently developed Creative Commons license regime provides an alternative system of intellectual property rights. Content licensed under Creative Commons licenses is sometimes referred to as “open content” since the Creative Commons license (also referred to as copyleft protection) explicitly places the content into the commons. Creative Commons licenses have been adapted to various jurisdictions internationally, including African and Asian countries such as South Africa, China, India, Malaysia and Taiwan. As of July 2008, there are over 130 million licensed works under the Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons has also created a specialized “developing nations” license that provides a legal means for copyright holders to allow free uses of their work in developing nations while reserving traditional copyright protection in developed countries. Gauguier and Douine (2005) believe that “by creating a public domain of creative works, creative commons offered developing countries significant raw material with which to build local content”. Finally, the Creative Commons movement, which sets an international standard, is an excellent example of how the Internet crosses legal and institutional boundaries.

Next: Technical Environment

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License