Friday, May 8, 2009

The Digital Divide

The Digital Divide refers to the growing gap between those with access to globalization technologies (such as the internet, telecommunications, etc) and those without. As a future community development planner, I am interested in figuring out how to increase the access of the under served to the benefits of globalization and its technologies. Increased access is part of my goal to level the playing field; I believe that since we all are impacted by globalization, as much as possible we should try to have a say in it.

Globalization, although giving some tokens of progress to the vast majority in the world, largely benefits the top, most interconnected, individuals. This is for the simple reason that those with capital to invest and access to new markets, ideas, education, technology, and people are better able to take advantage of new opportunities. This causes a massive increase in inequality in a similar way to what Reaganomics did to economies like Indonesia, a small improvement through the "trickle down" and a massive increase in inequality. Inequality is destabilizing, which is why I worry about it. Also, the bit that does trickle-down often is just enough to increase the capability to mobilize of the most disadvantaged while not greatly improving their socio-economic position (what good is the internet if you cannot sell anything or gain some economic opportunity, what good is knowing the price of grain at market if it is not going to improve much and you have no choice but to sell?). But I am, as usual, getting away from a major point I wanted to discuss here: overestimation of the current impact of globalization technologies.

I am often frustrated while listening to the tech society people who live online. These people are modeled similarly as Thomas Friedman, the author of "The World is Flat" and the "Lexus and the Olive Tree." Dispite what the flat-world people say, it is not flat and it is going to get less so before it becomes more so unless we make some major attempts to equalize access to the benefits of globalization currently reserved for the super-connected. At this point, most people do not use the internet for very much-including huge numbers of Americans-and vast numbers remain unconnected throughout the world. The new "Global North" is made up of nodes within countries throughout the world that, for reasons of geography and chance, have become connected. Bangalore, for us, represents India even though Calcutta is likely much more represented. What I mean by this is that still most people are poor, under-educated, and do not use the internet. The rise of the "Digital Supermen" will not occur as long as most of the world is still unconnected. We tend to overstate the advances of interconnection, and this is a serious mistake. We should not cheapen the advances that have been made, just temper our adulation until we reach a point where more of the world is benefiting and participating in the process of interconnection.

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