Narrowing the Digital Divide…to what end?

Here we go again, another initiative aiming at helping my brothers and sisters catch up with the best. Is it really necessary to give every child a laptop? What is the true meaning of digital divide? Is this just another hype, or perhaps a shrewd move to secure markets that are underdeveloped today?

These are questions i often ask myself. I think this initiative only deals with the visible symptoms of the digital divide. To bear fruit, this effort should be associated with efforts to fight disease and hunger in poor countries. Kids that have to walk for miles to get to school and mostly with a hungry belly, are also challenged to learn anything. Other questions that are not answered at this stage:

  • How will these people connect to the internet?
  • As part of the rollout, is there a plan to also deploy wireless access points in these countries?
  • A huge proportion of the content available in the internet is in english, or languages that are alien to the poor people. Will there be efforts to provide relevant and localised content that can be useful to these kids?
  • What about the running costs: the necessary wireless networks, these laptops will most probably often break, who will provide the maintenance and support facilities?

I await to hear more about the rollout plan. For now, i think this is a great idea that will mainly help a small minority, the “privileged poor” if i can term it that way. Those that already live in built-up areas with reasonable infrastructure, those that already have food and have easy access to schools and hospitals. So maybe, just maybe this initiative is aimed at relatively affluent China, India and a few other asian countries perceived as future growth markets. However, the “seriously poor”, by far the largest majority, will propably never even hear about this. If they do, they might not be able to effectively use these shiny new devices. Every little helps.

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