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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Shoes show up net inequalities
Rejane Spitz
Spitz: Each shoe has a story to tell
A Brazilian artist has come up with the novel idea of using an exhibition of people's shoes as a way of highlighting the digital divide.

Rejane Spitz chose shoes as she sees them as an important component of someone's personality.

"Each shoe has a story to tell, a smell and a shape," she told the BBC's Go Digital.

The illiterate people we interviewed had no idea about the internet

Rejane Spitz
"I wanted to have it smelly. I wanted to bring all the people I interviewed. They all had to be here with me. They were not, so I brought the shoes instead."

For her project, she interviewed 120 people from professionals to the poor living in the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro.

The idea was to weave a tapestry of images, sounds and ideas to dispel the notion that the internet alone would bring progress, a better quality of life and greater democracy.

'No idea' of the internet

Spitz found that although most people had heard of the internet, many had no concept of what it was or how it worked.

Shoes illustrate digital divide
Instead their perception of the web had been shaped by television and advertising.

"The media is trying to put across a message that the internet is connecting the whole world, that everyone has to be online," says Spitz, who is the coordinator of the Electronic Art Centre at the University of Rio de Janeiro.

"In fact, the illiterate people we interviewed had no idea about the internet," she says.

"They knew it was good for the world to have such a fantastic thing but when you asked them what was so fantastic about it, they have no idea. They can only repeat the jargon."

Shoes and soundbites

The installation, on display at a computer graphics convention in Los Angeles, provides a dramatic illustration of the digital divide.

The internet isn't going to do anything for you, it's up to us alone to try to improve our lives

Brazilian interviewee
You start by walking along a black corridor flanked by piles of the shoes. As you walk your feet trigger soundbites from her interviews.

Eventually, you arrive at an inner sanctum with a giant screen where you can call up pictures of her interviewees and hear their original interviews in Portuguese, along with on-screen transcripts.

"The internet isn't going to do anything for you, it's up to us alone to try to improve our lives," said one man.

"I don't have an opinion as I don't even know how to get onto it," said another.

"The internet? Isn't that a TV channel?" said one woman.

Those connected to the internet told a different story.

"It's an extraordinary thing that when I was young I could never imagine it would come to be," said one of them.

"For me it's quite a magical thing," said another.

The people who don't have food, a house, no sanitation, don't have healthcare - they don't want the internet right now

Rejane Spitz
Spitz sees her installation as a reminder to those who forget that 93% of the world's population are not connected to the internet.

"What is even sadder is that these people will be on the outside. They will not benefit from the internet. They are outsiders and will never be included," she said.

"The people who don't have food, a house, no sanitation, don't have healthcare or work in unsafe, unhealthy conditions - they don't want the internet right now."

"They have other basic needs. We should all be addressing this issue in some way."

Go Digital is webcast on BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT and then available on demand. It is broadcast on BBC World Service radio on Tuesday at 1905 GMT, Wednesday at 0105 and 1405 GMT and Thursday at 0905 GMT.

Rejane Spitz
"I wanted the installation to be smelly"
See also:

23 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Internet 'divides society'
21 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
When the web is not world-wide
21 Jul 00 | Americas
Internet in the Amazon
11 Jul 00 | UK
The world wide what?
19 Mar 01 | dot life
Bridging the digital divide
27 Jul 00 | Africa
Feeding hungry minds in Africa
22 Aug 00 | Business
The losers of the digital divide
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Brazil
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