Monday, September 19, 2005

The Digital Divide as the Grand Canyon:
Cultural Priorities Part of the Problem

In the U.S., we tend to forget, somewhere in the vast oceans of TiVOs, iPods, and other entrenchment trends, that there is a bigger picture when it comes to the development of new technologies.

For much of human history, technology has been used not simply to make people's lives easier. Technology has traditionally been developed as a means to better the human experience.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

While the overwhelming majority of inhabitants of this planet struggle to develop viable information infrastructures, combat government censorship and media control, and seek something as basic as a telephone, many in the U.S. and the rest of the so-called Developed World treat new video game consoles, the latest mobile devices, or fancy coding languages like an unalienable human right, free of any sort of social responsibility.

Devoid of social responsibility, information and communication technologies (ICT) creates, builds, and establishes nothing, save stroking the egos of the citizenry of the Developed World.

There are folks fighting, bleeding, and even dying to get access to ICT for their countrymen.

There are people - real, honest-to-God human beings - fighting to deliver basic technologies that could be used effectively to combat real world problems in the Developing World - everything from AIDs to dictatorships to hunger.

Think I'm full of shit on this?

The advent of the world's largest and most widely recognizable form of information and communication technology, the written word, led directly to the development of everything from poetry to literature, to avents in culture and the ability to document history.

The adoption of the printing press in Europe sparked the Reformation, colonial rebellion, and social revolution.

The advent of automated computing allowed men to do everything from build nuclear arsenals to putting men into outer space.

The ability to adopt technology is directly linked to the ability for societies to flourish.

What good's a damn $400 Mp3 player in the hands of a select few of the world's wealthiest teens and twentysomethings when the majority of their counterparts are struggling to learn how to better use ICT to build hospitals, to communicate and coordinate education, and to help bring vital services to where there was none?

Grahamstown, South Africa - This year's Highway Africa Conference was started with the call on African governments and the private sector to find ways of analyzing and closing the digital divide that has existed between Africa and the developed world for a long time.
In his keynote address, the Group Chief Executive of the South Africa Broadcasting Company (SABC), Mr. Dali Mpofu said that African governments have taken for granted the benefits that a country would derived from the development of Information and Communications Technology. (ICT).

He said Africans are willing to learn ICT but the infrastructure is not there as countries are yet to put them in place, and pointed out that "Government and the private sector must invest."

Now, compare that tale to the list CNET recently compiled of the Top-10 ICT products of all time...with a free-to-the-public product like Google "almost being overlooked" and finishing in third place - behind the iPod and TiVO, entertainment technologies.

CNET, the stalwart of promoting new wizbang gadgets, and its list demonstrates the gap not just in technologies but also in terms of cultural priorities. ICT development in the West is increasingly driven by trends in user demands for entertainment products. All the while, places like Sub-Saharan Africa seek to stem the tide of witnessing entire cultures fall decades behind in terms of the most basic of ICT - telephones, modem connections, digital educational resources, etc.


Kelley Bell said...

By George, i think youre right.

Chewie said...

dude i know what you mean.. and i must admit that i am guilty of being on of those people.. i love my technology.. and i am baffled at those that do not have it.. DAMN YOU you really know how to put things in perspective and make people think.. i love that and hate that about you :-)

Ms. Monkeythong said...

I'll have to give you one of my 'fossilized' cell phones (in reality - clay).

G said...

Africa One was supposed to be the start of the African information infrastructure. Essentially it was to be sub-water cabling, surrounding the country, to enable high-speed Internet access within the country.

But, as with many such projects, the corporate interests behind the venture pulled the plug as costs began to escalate. Information on Africa One, once plentiful and heralded, is increasingly hard to find, other than the project is in limbo and unlikely to get off the ground. Once again, financial interest of a foreign entity took the place of a major step to eliminate the divide. That and the prospect of African corporations rising, with the new access levels, to challenge the US and UK interests that have already "globalized" into the region.

KFigment said...

You have so much faith in people. What you have failed to realize is that your view of equality and a perfect world is jaded You think everyone should have equal access to technology. The answer is not more technology it is less technology. Now don't get me wrong I love my computer and my cell phone but if you took them away tomorrow I could still function. I still know the value over cooking on a stove, reading a book, and silence. Those that truly survive will be the people who understand a balance.

The human race is not designed to be utopian. Natural selection is where we come from and it is how we will continue to thrive. The digital divide is not a bad thing. In fact we have come to need technology to much. I met someone who didn't know how to use a phone book because they had 411. There are people who can not add or subtract because they believe that technology will always be there. Imagination has been replaced by video games. Cardboard boxes used to be spaceships, boats, houses, cars, lemonade stands, now they are trash!