Who needs the Internet?/ Single Stories

I wanted to begin this blog post by referencing ideas from my last blog post and what we have discussed this week. I wrote about Humans of New York (a photographer capturing the diverse people who live in New York) and how he was using his photographs to give an online presence to those who normally wouldn’t do it themselves. One of my fellow classmates pointed out that this might not necessarily be an authentic representation since it was coming through someone else and I agree. Although I do believe it is better than no online presence at all. However I have recently come to realize that there are several articles online about problems people have with Humans of New York. One particular article referenced some ideas that we have been talking about and one paragraph really stuck out to me http://gawker.com/the-problem-with-humans-of-new-york-1617812880 :

“In the world of Humans of New York, however, humans are actually caricatures. The people Stanton photographs are reduced to whatever decontextualized sentence or three he chooses to use along with their photo. And so the nattily dressed Klein, cigar in hand, lectures us about how we should all follow our dreams, while the woman whose photo was posted near his tells us that she wants things at work, where she’s under the boss’s thumb, done “my way.” But both photographs and “stories,” as Stanton calls them, even if they are a mere sentence, exist to fulfill stereotypes; the evidently rich fellow gets to brag about his achievements, the nonwhite woman gets to complain about her lot in life.”

I find it very interesting that Stanton (the creator of Humans of New York) calls his photographs stories. The article points out the fact that they are actually single stories showing only one side/facet of a person. A photograph and a single quote or short conversation only give you a small amount of information.

Are the photographs negatively fulfilling stereotypes if Stanton is just photographing and writing down what the person said? If it’s accurate what is the harm? Well, as the TED talk we watched in class pointed out stereotypes might be true but they are also incomplete. The person may be fulfilling a stereotype (and that is not Stanton’s fault) but he is only providing a single story further proving stereotypes.

According to the TED talk, single stories rob people of their dignity, but the people who participate in Humans of New York only seem to be empowered due to its current popularity. Does that mean it is an effective use of a single story? A quick way to share peoples experiences through the internet, passing on their wisdom to those who need it?

At the same time the author of this article also only sees a single story about Stanton and what he is trying to accomplish.

“It appears that Stanton sees people not as people but as vectors of how young, white New Yorkers see them.”

“Obviously, the site isn’t journalism—it’s documenting nothing more than Stanton’s own viewpoint and, now, how much he evidently enjoys being a known quantity.”

Who needs the internet and why do they need it?


While scrolling through Facebook I came across this YouTube video from John Green (author of Fault in Our Stars and famous YouTuber) on “Will Life Get Better for the Poor?” I clicked on it with mild curiosity wondering if it would relate at all to what we were learning and I wasn’t disappointed.

Two Worlds/Divide

It relates to the mention of the haves and the have not’s in our book just in different terms. He divides the world up into two (very binary) separate sections.

“We still kind of live in two worlds. In one world fewer than 1% of kids die before the age of five almost no one gets malaria and very few children are denied access to vaccines because of lack of refrigeration… and then we have the other world. In that one 1.5 million children die every year from diseases preventable be vaccines… and kids are less likely to go to school and learn to read especially if they are girls and all of that is totally unacceptable.”

-John Green

I reference this video because one of the sections in Chapter 9 is Who needs the Internet? I think that this video helps us think about that in broad terms.

“Investments in Innovations that will improve the Lives of Poor People”

  1. Access to mobile banking
  2. Better farming practices
  3. Online education tools

“What this would do…”

  1. Enough food would be produced to feed every African
  2. People would be able to save and dramatically simplify their economic lives with access to mobile banking
  3. Girls would have far better educational opportunities dramatically reducing the gender gap in literacy
    • Access to technology can solve other kinds of divides (not just digital ones)

1 and 3 both deal with technology and having access to a phone or laptop. When we talk about the digital divide in class we have just been focusing on who doesn’t have technology and what white people should be doing to fix that. I like that this video talks about the benefits of what technology could do for those who don’t have it. The effect and not the cause. The book even discusses why people need technologies, reinforcing Greens statements above. The “digital communications technologies matter [in] every aspect of life, social life-business, education, government, family life, social change movements- [have] been reshaped along digital lines” (pg 181).

Green references an empathy gap that we westerners have because we can’t see the problems in front of us. Maybe discussing what technology would mean for people who don’t have it could help close that gap. We need to close it according to Green because, “we do not actually live in two worlds.”

“People in developing worlds are not silent, we are just not good at listening. We need to listen better and more broadly” (rhetorical listening).

-John Green

Reinforcing Stereotypes

While this video is very enlightening I also think it had some negative effects as well. Right off the bat he associates poor people (the title of the video) with Africa once again reinforcing stereotypes and promoting the single story of how westerners supposedly see African people.  While trying to improve the lives of the poor and raise awareness he is at the same time creating a single story for them as poor people who need the Wests help.  Does this mean that his video is causing more harm than good?


His final thought is that people that are more informed are more engaged. Do you think that is true? If the younger generation were more informed of this digital divide and what closing it would mean do you think they would they take action?



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