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Justice Communicator Column 3: Access from Digital Justice Perspective

We’re back on task with our Justice Communicator Column round-up. These posts originally appeared in the Michigan Citizen. ~Gregg

Access from Digital Justice Perspective
by Victoria Goff

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently announced recommendations to marketing corporations and ad agencies against using heavy airbrushing in their advertisements. The AMA’s recommendations were unusual as they recognized the effect a constant stream of a certain type of media message can have on the health of human beings. In this case, the AMA was most concerned about what effect the constant stream of “perfect” women has on the body image of girls and women, but what I found so groundbreaking about the AMA’s recommendations is how they help to expand our understand of what “access” can mean, especially in the context of digital media.

Previously in this column, my fellow communications coordinators covered what “access” might look like from environmental and food justice perspectives. Patrick noted that environmental justice can not be a reality when children are being denied access to community gardens. Gregg discussed how corporate grocery stores can make accessing quality organic food nearly impossible for local communities. In each of their columns, they redefined what we’ve traditionally understood “access” to mean from the environmental and food justice perspective: access means more than the ability to take a vacation at some far away campground, and it means something much different than the ability to buy expensive food.

When it comes to “access” from a digital justice perspective, we’re dealing with a very similar need to redefine what “access” means. Traditionally, “access” to different types of media means increasing consumer’s ability to buy high speed internet or computers. But as Patrick and Gregg pointed out in their columns, only by reconsidering the entire way “lack of access” affects our communities can we really see the problem.

When it comes to digital justice, the AMA’s recommendations show us that just like the environment we live in and the food we eat, media lliterally affects the health and mental well being of those who consume it. When young people don’t have access to diverse positive images of themselves, their physical health suffers. How does increasing a consumer’s access to those images (increasing ability to buy high speed internet) help to heal a young person’s physical health?

When you expand what “access” can mean, you begin to see that Detroit also has plenty of its own “photoshopped” representations in media. The phenomenon of “decay porn” is a type of media that aims to capture the “tragic beauty” of abandoned buildings in Detroit. The utterly uncritical belief in the eminent death of a once great city allows mostly outsiders to profit handsomely off of the books, tours, and websites that result from the “tragically beautiful” photos.

But what do those photos mean for the health of Detroiters? If an onslaught of impossibly perfect photos of women can harm the mental and physical health of an entire generation of women and girls–what does the onslaught of photos that assume the death of Detroit mean for the mental and physical health of generations of Detroiters? What does it mean for the health of Detroit as a city? And how does increasing a community’s ability buy high speed internet address this health issue?

While the ability to subscribe to the internet or buy cheap computers is not necessarily a bad thing by itself, it does more to address the needs of corporations than communities. It does not prioritize the health of community members or assume their agency in creating solutions for themselves. It does what Gregg describes in his column about food and access: it dismisses and often destroys local innovation and community based resources rather than nurturing them. Access from a digital justice perspective recognizes that just as local farmers created CSA’s to address lack of quality food in the area, local media makers already are creating their own types of media that may or may not be technology centered to address the lack of quality media. Local media makers are farmers in their own right–and have the power to grow media that can heal and build.

Access in a digital justice sense is less about buying access and more about recognizing that without media, we have no relationships or communities. Whether it means dancing or cooking together or chatting on a blog or texting friends about the latest protest, relationships are the essential nutrient to a quality diet of any kind.

Stay tuned for next week’s article which will focus on “participation!”

Victoria Goff is the Communications Coordinator for the Detroit Media Economy Collaborative in Detroit Michigan. DMEC is a collaboration between organizations in Detroit that are working to build a sustainable media economy in Detroit.

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