For millenia, humankind survived and even flourished without electronic technology. However, in the last dozen decades, lightning-quick advances in technology have made the absence of digital technology an acute disadvantage wherever it occurs. Globally, the difference between its presence or absence has been termed the digital divide, and a movement has been churning to bridge it.
The above photo is an approximate view of the world that has access to reliable internet access, with dark green being the most access and dark red the least access. One can easily correlate the reddest countries with high levels of poverty and political instability. But, will bringing internet access and the education to use it help bring citizens of these areas out of their poor condition, or do the physical needs of these people need to be fully met before we give them computers?
The Nicaragua Dispatch reports, “The International Telecommunications Union estimates that by the end of 2012 there were close to 2.5 billion people using the Internet worldwide. But only a quarter of those people live in the developing world.” Already, moves are being made to close the gap in different areas. In Nigeria, Zinox Group, partnering with Intel Corporation, is helping to computerize “over 65 percent of the tertiary institutions in Nigeria.” Leo Stan Ekeh, chairman, said that “the technology firm could do more in terms of bridging the country’s digital divide if only the operating environment was conducive.” We will revisit this idea later.
Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of International Organization
Affairs listed benefits of digital technology that can be applied to farmers, fishermen, teachers, students, scientists, engineers, doctors, hospitals, the disabled, and also benefits to the communications industry. But Brimmer also made an astute observation:
A network is only as strong as its users and as their ability to connect with one another….Those voices are what give the Internet its great potential, and if we are to achieve the goals we set out at [World Summit on the Information Society], we must ensure that they continue to be heard.
Brimmer also described the internet as having a bottom-up nature, meaning that it needs a strong foundation to build from. Referring again to the photo, another connection that can be drawn is the correlation between the nations’ level of redness and level of religious freedom. Before we can begin to discuss the ins and outs of how to bring technology to aid people in developing nations, we must first understand what kind of nations we want them to develop into.
By providing access to internet content, and educating them to use it qualitatively, we can give people the opportunity to gain wealth and understanding, to develop pluralistic cultures, and to operate as members of a global society; however, our efforts to implant these technologies will be to no avail if we cannot help them to overthrow their current restrictive governments and replace them with democratic ones which allow first for freedom of religion (including the choice of abstaining from it), and then for freedom of speech, petition, assembly, and so on. Without the ability to create a moral identity, an individual cannot move ahead to become an effectively social person.
Should the digital divide be closed? Yes, for the freedom and well-being of all people. How can we close it? By first providing a culture conducive to a free-information society.