The Promise of Access
Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope
- Winner of the McGannon Book Award, 2021
Why simple technological solutions to complex social issues continue to appeal to politicians and professionals who should (and often do) know better.
Why do we keep trying to solve poverty with technology? What makes us feel that we need to learn to code—or else? In The Promise of Access, Daniel Greene argues that the problem of poverty became a problem of technology in order to manage the contradictions of a changing economy. Greene shows how the digital divide emerged as a policy problem and why simple technological solutions to complex social issues continue to appeal to politicians and professionals who should (and often do) know better.
Greene shows why it is so hard to get rid of the idea—which he terms the access doctrine—that the problem of poverty can be solved with the right tools and the right skills. This way of thinking is so ingrained that is adopted by organizations that fight poverty—which often refashion themselves to resemble technology startups. Drawing on years of fieldwork, Greene explores how this plays out in the real world, examining organizational change in technology startups, public libraries, and a charter school in Washington, DC. He finds that as the libraries and school pursue technological solutions, they win praise and funding but also marginalize and alienate the populations they serve. Greene calls for new political alliances that can change the terms on which we understand technology and fight poverty.
“The Promise of Access is one of the most important books written on social institutions and the lived experiences of techno-solutionism in the United States. Dan Greene systematically dismantles the cultural history of technology's antipoverty promises to reveal, instead, the reality of how uncritical technology ideologies subvert social institutions' democratic missions. The book is an important addition to STS, critical information studies, and political economy courses.”
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor of Information and Library Science. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; author of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy
“Poverty is social. For decades we knew this, but we forgot, believing in computer code instead. Greene brilliantly explodes this myth, shows the damage it does, and imagines a way forward together.”
Nick Couldry, Coauthor of The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism
“Told with sympathy and humor, The Promise of Access is nonetheless a slow-motion tragedy, with often well-meaning characters set in a shiny world of upbeat adages, high-tech funding, and strategic metrics.”
Allison J. Pugh, Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia; author of The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity