Here you can read the article by David Lacombled, Deputy Director of Content Strategy for the Orange group, which appeared in the Civic Review and is described as follows: “Beyond the usual frontiers and rifts, far from ideological approaches, the Civic Review expounds the promotion of a civic, open mind.” Published three times a year, you can visit its brand new website revuecivique.eu to subscribe.
What if we were to add a fourth W to the three Ws that have brought about a revolution in unparalleled communication and knowledge? Four Ws that symbolize the central role that women play on the Internet “by bringing a breath of freedom, of openness and of generosity…” writes David Lacombled, Deputy Director of Content Strategy of the Orange group and Chairman of the “Villa Numeris” think-tank: “What if in the end, the digital revolution was their revolution?”
In the past, revolutions, whether technical, industrial or political, often occurred without women. When the warlords took it upon themselves to transform technology, upturn industry or change the world, women seemed curiously absent from their plans. Worse still, some revolutions actually took place against them. How much progress and how many waves of liberalization – one need only think of the various industrial revolutions – have ended up subjecting women to increased alienation?
With the Internet, for the first time, a revolution seems to be happening alongside them, and including them. To start with, this was not exactly the case. At the outset, Internet was a strict military, computerized affair: thus essentially a man’s affair. It is true that the sphere of Arpanet, the technology used by the pioneers of Internet, and Gyro Gearloose, the programmer of giant computers of the time, had very little to do with the female world. However, since then, as we know, IT has evolved into digital computing, technicity has given way to intuitiveness, and the exceptional has become routine, with women making up the ground lost to their male counterparts in the beginning.
Internet: a runaway female success
The figures eloquently reflect this runaway female success in the digital world: though fewer than 30% of surfers were women in 2000, they now number almost 50%.
But putting the figures aside, it is the female presence on the Internet that is indisputable: women are making digital spaces work, both in number and in quality, via blogs, social media or forums, where users tend more often to be female than male.
This is also shown by the Orange-Terrafemina Observatory, which since March 2010 has been responsible for analyzing the relationships between women and the Internet, specifically giving them a voice via panel discussions organized by the Treize Articles agency. As the results have rolled in from the Observatory, one trend is absolute: women have a powerful link to the Internet. Even better, they have elective affinities. Above all, they feel a genuine complicity with a tool that is in phase with so-called female values. Intuition, a sense of dialogue and sharing, and the expression of creativity and freedom represent values that for them describe the Internet and form a welcome counterpoint to power, rules, and the power of status that generally govern human relations in social and economic life. For them, Internet represents a facilitative tool at their disposal, allowing them to fully live their freedom, their desire for success and the organization of their professional life. For a long time a male preserve, they feel that the freedom to be entrepreneurial has been made possible thanks to the Internet.
They can also experience an extension of their freedom online, where real life inevitably leads towards more inhibition. This is specifically the case in terms of romantic life, where online dating sites contribute to making it more natural, more socially acceptable, less transgressive and less marginalizing. Also in relation to gambling games, women feel free to play at home, while visiting a betting shop would be a crippling hurdle. Or even more so, when dealing with certain prescribing authorities, such as medicine, the Internet offers the possibility of making “your own way” in terms of prescription, by combining various information sources.
In this experimentation with their freedom, the women questioned by the Orange-Terrafemina Observatory also feel they are being carried along by the dialogue, solidarity and sharing – specifically between women – that Internet allows. In short, Internet and its blogs, forums, and social networks are experienced by women as vectors for their freedom of expression as much as they are an expression of their freedom.
Added to this is another complicit element. Internet possesses ergonomics and flexibility that resonate perfectly with the female way of life, integrating their daily lives in a ‘tailor-made’ way. This occurs to such an extent that some women highlight – not without a note of irony – that women share the ability to multi-task with native digital devices!
Facing such symbiosis with the Internet, we could be tempted to talk about the existence of a female Internet or to outline a feminine style of online use. Just as, some time ago, we may have asked the question of whether the female vote or a female way of voting existed. In reality, as was the case with voting, the response is no. The fact that there are no female specificities in terms of Internet usage, when examined up close, is very good news… for women. Because if there is no female internet, this is indeed because by its nature, Internet is equal. Equal in essence. And if the digital revolution seems to be the first revolution in which women are fully integrated on an equal footing with men, this is because the network is more a carrier of knowledge than of power, moved more by intelligence than by order, run more by intuition than by certainty. In this way, Internet breaks down the male bond, this invisible but real male link, which shaped and continues to shape, political and economic life.
Internet: openness from a feminine perspective
What women perfectly grasped in terms of Internet, by adopting it as a natural tool, was its ability to develop all forms of openness. In fact, we can see that the digital revolution creates new frontiers and new areas of freedom. Firstly, there is openness to new citizenships. In fact, we have seen since the birth of the Internet and social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) a new form of social and citizen-based membership grow. This citizenship is no longer confined to your home country, but to a transnational community of free exchange. A new form of citizenship, which we might call “cyber-citizenship” or “digital citizenship”, is emerging, led by the values that each network develops: diversity, dialogue, openness, international vision, faith in information… A new citizenship that transcends nationalities and what’s more, is worrying some leaders due to the breath of freedom it brings.
There is also openness to a new generosity. In fact, a new form of solidarity is being created. Its effectiveness was put to the test specifically in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, which saw a remarkable wave of solidarity take shape across the world. Thanks to cellphones, a “Text Haiti” service enabled the collection of donations and coordination of organizations to help victims by phone: the simple fact of calling a number debited your account with a sum that was directly sent in full to victims. This same impulse combining generosity and technological effectiveness was observed with regards to Japan, struck by a tsunami in March 2011. Worldwide aid whose vectors were Internet, Skype and social networks. This generosity can be expressed everywhere and by everyone thanks to the use of new technologies as means of payment, in particular by cellphone. It can also be used to offer time digitally, time that is eminently precious when it comes to transferring knowledge and techniques. Thanks to these developments and to the Internet, every citizen can, if they so desire, become a cyber-philanthropist.
Lastly, comes openness to new freedoms. The entire world was able to watch the role played by Internet and social media during the Arab Springs, particularly in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. We were able to see that without Twitter and Facebook, young Tunisians and Egyptians would not have found it so easy to avoid censorship, to get together and to organize their revolt. The wind of democracy has blown in from social media, and managed to topple regimes, showing in a dazzling way that now, civil society has its own weapons to fight against dictators. And these dictators have been able to see that Internet is anything but virtual.
In all these actions opening onto the world, women are to be found at the vanguard. They are at the very heart of the digital revolution. Citizenship, philanthropy, and civil liberties are all areas where the vast majority of those working are women. Via their actions, the freedom of men is at stake, and with it, that of women.
This digital revolution thus opens up new prospects for women: not one of conquering freedom on the Internet, since they already have it, but rather via the Internet. By using this equal opportunity tool, promoting openness and freedom as an adjuvant to help move towards greater freedom and greater justice in real life. The challenge for women will be to use their acquired Internet experience to enable all forms of freedom to advance. Their freedom, naturally, but based on that, the freedom of society as a whole.
If women and the Web have such complicity, it is because they share the same destiny: to paraphrase French poet Louis Aragon, they are both the future of man, that is to say mankind.