Digital Technologies and Marginalized Youth:
Reducing the Gap

IDC 09 Workshop, June 3, 2009, Como, Italy
This workshop is the second of its kind at IDC. During the first workshop (titled “marginalized young people: inclusion through ICT”) at IDC 2008 in Chicago about 20 people discussed the question on how ICT can take effect as an enabler for the integration and active participation of young people with difficult backgrounds. Among the participants, it became clear that the discussion and concerns about those who are marginalized and excluded from power and efficacy with respect to mainstream society and technology should become a major and long-lasting subject at IDC, and a significant field of research and development.

What does it mean to be “marginalized”?
Marginalization can be defined as not belonging to the mainstream culture, and thus lacking the “social capital” to partake from the benefits of a society and to gain effect on its culture. Reasons might be found in poverty, lack of competences in mainstream language and/or culture, or lack of motivation. These are main factors for exclusion of young people from full participation in societies and cultures.

ICT solutions can be seen as providers of social cohesion and integration, as a means for inclusion. Young people adapt quickly to new technologies and they often seem to live in both the physical and the virtual world. Still, big differences exist in what youngsters are doing with digital media, which devices and software they preferably use, and which kinds of individual or social experiences they carry on with them. New kinds of digital divides are arising among the young generation, which does not only result from having no or limited access to ICT, but is produced by “remaining only a user” vs. “becoming a critical and competent actor” who can exploit virtual experiences order to increase his or her cultural, social and economic capital.

From an ICT perspective, a crucial question with respect to the integration of marginalized young people is how the technology can be designed and used to enable marginalized young people in bringing their social capital into society, developing their creativity, intellectual skill, or social attitudes, and acquiring key competences.

Key issues that will be discussed in this workshop are:

  • What are the characteristics and conditions for social exclusion in respect to ICT?
  • How do young people become able to integrate their experiences with digital media, by applying their virtual experiences to their real world, and vice versa?
  • How can ICT design processes be organized in order to promote participation of marginalized young people?
  • Which socio-technological environments are more suitable to foster curiosity and interest in this target group, and to achieve real benefits?
  • Is there any “proof” of what kind of products, interfaces, and ICT mediated “experiences” are more suitable to promote inclusion and integration of marginalized youngsters?

Main questions that will be raised are:

  • How does the digital divide among young people develop between rich and poor nations, what measures and good practices are known from developing countries?
  • What are main factors of exclusion from creative shaping and active using of ICT by young people?
  • Which theoretical concepts (explaining marginalization and fostering new solutions) can be exploited for the field of digital media?
  • How can technologies elicit young people’s creativity, reflectivity, self-expression and self-esteem?
  • How have ICT solutions to be designed in order to support young people with different backgrounds, especially for the poor, for the culturally excluded, for young people with lack of motivation for learning?
  • What qualities of technologies can help to involve different social groups and position them as valuable members of the community?
  • How can digital technologies support engaging experiences of the physical spaces and places where young people are living and sharing meaning of their experiences and lives?
  • How to envision contexts where ICTs can be introduced, embedded, actively shaped by young people?
  • How to design educational opportunities that will be engaging for the creation and sharing of experiences, and foster playful learning experiences for young people at risk of exclusion?
  • Are there success stories and best practices to tell?
  • Do informed and reliable empirical studies exist on the impact of ICT on young people’s lives?
  • How can we address infrastructure issues (e.g., unreliable electrical supply, remote locations)?
  • How can we address localization issues?
  • What are the best ways of collaboration with local experts and stakeholders?
  • What are the commonalities and differences in the challenges we face?

During this workshop, the views on the field are taken from different perspectives:

  • Empirical research on marginalized young people’s activities with ICT
  • Theoretical insights in special (technological and social) conditions of the field
  • Design methodologies in developing technologies for the target group
  • Embedding media technologies in the field
  • Best practices
  • Evaluation of prototypes, products, projects, and practices

Through this workshop, we aim at fostering the creation of a multidisciplinary community that can understand the above issues and develop innovative technological and methodological solutions. For this purpose, we will make sure to involve participants with a variety of backgrounds.

Some results expected from this event are:

  • A multi-perspective reflection (e.g., from a technological, educational, social, or psychological view point) on benefits and drawbacks of the intense, pervasive, ubiquitous use of ICT by the younger generation in marginalized contexts, supported by case studies and empirical investigations.
  • An investigation into the phenomenon of “youngsters’ digital divide” and possible directions for “inclusion through ICT” of marginalized young people
  • The creation, for all participants, of new contacts and new opportunities for collaboration in common activities.