Monday, March 12, 2007

Exploring the Digital Divide

While I don't typically comment on issues of technology, this article really struck me as interesting. I was amazed to see the estimate of 750 million people accessing the internet in 2007. While this number itself is not particularly interesting, when compared to the world population of six billion, it represents an extreme disparity of access to a revolutionary technology that consumes much of our daily lives in the Global North. It is hard to make the argument that the internet is democratizing public discussion when less than eleven percent of the world has accessed it in the past year. It is hard to imagine what perspectives we are missing out on and what analysis could be brought to bare that would inform world opinion in a fundamentally different way. It could be argued that those who are in the most need of having their voice heard are silenced by this extreme digital divide.

Arguably more important than having your voice heard is the access to information that the internet allows. The ability to find information and analysis on an infinite range of issues is what keeps most of us logged on as we go about our daily lives. An overwhelming majority of the world lacks access to the wealth of informational resources that the internet provides.

One promising intervention to close this gap comes from the One Laptop per Child movement. By creating a rugged laptop that costs about one hundred dollars to create, MIT and other groups are working to close this significant disparity. While one hundred dollars is prohibitively expensive for individuals all over the world (over one billion of which make less than one dollar a day), donors have been spurned into action to buy these laptops for distribution around the world. While this in no way addresses the structural and social forces that created this inequality, it can be seen as a step in the right direction.

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