Thoughts on Sieber et al. (2016) & the future of PPGIS

Sieber et al. (2016)’s discussion of Doing Public Participation on the Geospatial Web raises issue with accepting the standard GIS uses in governments as forms of public participation. While this public use seems benign and helpful at first glance, their analysis shows that it is not always this way, and the government-public relationship has remained fairly unchanged by the advent of the public use of the Geoweb.

The field of PPGIS will be particularly interesting as the “digital generation”, or those who have grown up or started from an early age in using the Internet or other virtual devices, ages. As more of this generation reaches voting age (usually when one becomes politically active/conscious) the ways in which government interacts with citizens will change irreversibly, and perhaps the demarcation between government and citizen will blur or mutate as well (as Sieber et al. denoted has only slightly occurred so far).

In addition, the aging of this “digital generation” may eliminate the digital inequality brought on by technological advances. I hesitate to say that it will eliminate this specific inequality, as the “broadening of access” excitedly brought on by technology clearly has not lessened the divides between urban-rural/socioeconomic/age, as Sieber et al. noted, but also between (dis)abilities, in accessing resources virtually. And will web-based tech ever lessen the divides?

Without intervention, lower-income communities or geographically isolated communities may not have access to the web due to lack of financial resources, lack of device availability (to buy or to rent), lack of a platform to connect to, or other such concerns. In addition, technology will always evolve and it will always be “new”, regardless of which platforms or tech or equipment on which the older generation grew up, and the older generation may continue to not have access to teachers or they may not care to learn how to use/benefit from new technologies. Finally, text-to-speech technologies have made advances in connecting sight/audio impaired communities to the Internet, but there remains a lack of access for those with motor skills impairments, for example, which hopefully will be solved with advancements in science. With these persisting issues with web connectivity, public participation through the Geoweb cannot be taken at face value and must be studied more thoroughly through an equity lens.

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