The Unwired Side of the Digital Divide

by: Faye Ginsberg / NYU

Today, as I write, the United Nations is inaugurating a long awaited program, a “Digital Solidarity Fund”, that will underwrite initiatives that address “the uneven distribution and use of new information and communication technologies” and “enable excluded people and countries to enter the new era of the information society”. What this might mean in practice – which digital technologies might make a significant difference and for whom and with what resources — is still an open and contentious question. Debates about The Fund at the first meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003, are symptomatic of the complexity of “digital divide” issues that will no doubt be central to second phase of the information summit scheduled for November 2005 in Tunisia.

Terms such as the Digital Age and the Digital Divide, continue to shape our sense of the world and drive markets for ever greater consumption of the latest digital technologies. Yet, according to statistics from the 2005 World Economic Forum in Davos, only 12% of the world is currently “wired” and only 16% have access to telephone land lines (though cell phone technology is rapidly spreading). Digerati may see those numbers as opportunities for new markets. But for an anthropologist who has spent a good portion of her career looking at the uptake of media in remote parts of the world, the unexamined First-Worldism that has underwritten assumptions about the digital age and its inequalities is discouraging. I am not suggesting that the massive shifts in communication, sociality, knowledge production, and politics that the internet enables are simply irrelevant to the world’s poor and remote communities. My concern here is with how the language smuggles in a set of assumptions that paper over cultural and economic differences in the way things digital may be taken up, if at all, in radically different contexts, and thus serve to further insulate thinking against recognition of alterity that different kinds of media worlds present.

Some iconic cases might provide counterpoints of hopeful possibilities, in a futuristic nostalgic mode. In an article in the NY Times (1/27/04) entitled Digital Pony Express links up Cambodia, James Brooks, describes the work of MIT’s Media Lab and the American Assistance for Cambodia group in O Siengle, Cambodia, a village of less than 800 people on the edge of the forest, a location that is emblematic of life for millions of Asians. Through the Motoman project, the village connects its new elementary school to the Internet. Since they have no electricity or phones, the system is powered by solar panels. Once a day, a ‘Motoman’ rides his red motorcycle with a Wi-Fi chip, around the school, creating a temporary Internet hot spot, enabling e-mail to be up and downloaded. He then takes the data to the provincial capital where a satellite dish allows bulk e-mail exchange with the outside world.

Tellingly, this story was in the Business Section, suggesting that part of its charm is the possibility of new markets. In such stories, the Digital Divide, even as it wants to call well-intentioned concern to inequities, invokes neo-developmentalist language which assumes that less privileged cultural enclaves with little or no access to digital resources – from the South Bronx to the global south — will simply be “left behind” without such attention from epicenters such as the MIT Media Lab.

Remarkably, there are new and unexpected allies to my concerns. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, once the personification of new media evangelism, had, by 2000, demonstrated a remarkable change of heart, offering a serious critique of the idea of the digital divide and its capacity to blind people to the reality of the conditions of the globe’s poorest people. As he put it in a speech in 2000 at a conference entitled Creating Digital Dividends:

O.K., you want to send computers to Africa, what about food and electricity — those computers aren’t going to be that valuable. The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, “my children are dying, what can you do?” They’re not going to sit there and like, browse eBay or something.

Rather than giving out computers, Gates’ priorities for his Foundation are now with health care, in particular the development and distribution of vaccines which account for two-thirds of the grants made.

In their current cover story, no less an advocate for the spread of free enterprise than The Economist features a rethinking of the term (and terms of) The Real Digital Divide, along with a compelling photo of a young African boy holding an ersatz cell phone made of mud to his ear Its lead opinion piece, states that “the debate over the digital divide is founded on a myth — that plugging poor countries into the internet will help them to become rich rapidly … So even if it were possible to wave a magic wand and cause a computer to appear in every household on earth, it would not achieve very much: a computer is not useful if you have no food or electricity and cannot read.”

Ideas about what the digital age might offer look different from the perspective of people struggling to manage to make ends meet on a daily basis. Some qualitative studies suggest that radio and cell phones may be the forms of digital technology that make the difference, once basic needs are addressed. It seems that terms like the digital divide too easily foreclose discussion about what the stakes are for those who are out of power. Rather than imagining that we know the answers, clearly, we need to keep listening the 88% of the earth’s population that is on the unwired side of the so-called digital divide.

Please feel free to comment.

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15 comments

  • Ginsburg criticism of the established discourse on the Digital Divide raises some important questions. She is concerned with the way the language constructing this first world debate effaces the specific cultural context and potential of the digital experience in marginalized societies or as she puts it “paper over cultural and economic differences in the way things digital may be taken up.” However the solution of feeding the people before they are “given computers” which seems to be the Gates answer, perpetuates the same first-worldism Ginsburg renounces in the first place. What could be a genuine challenge to the developmentalism inherent in the Digital Divide discourse described?

  • the unwired side of the so-called digital divide

    When Faye Ginsburg quotes The Economist approvingly as reporting that, “a computer is not useful if you have no food or electricity and cannot read”, she and it are mistaken on several counts.

    A computer can be of use to someone without food or electricity if it helps someone else acquire food and electricity on their behalf. For example, and leaving aside the dubious Digital Solidarity Fund altogether, if a campaign to invest in national or regional digital infrastructure were undertaken in one portion of Bolivia or Chad or South Africa, it could conceivably create enough wealth to build-out sewage systems or electricity into other regions. Or to put it another way, if Brazil developed the next eBay, and it was from the outset nationalized, generating billions of dollars a year for investment in food, electricity and more digital infrastructure, that would be of use.

    Also, computers are increasingly of use to people who cannot read. Speech recognition software remains iffy, but it’s getting closer to mainstream with each passing iteration. And ‘Squishy interfaces’ like biometrics, touchscreens and smart fabrics, as well as Voice over IP, broadband penetration, compression technologies and embedded laser projectors that turns every wall into a screen to display images or movies emanating from your computer-in-a-pda, in-a-phone, in-a-watch – these are just a few of the technologies that may eventually render the keyboard – and thus the literate hegemony of the virtual sphere – obsolete. So not knowing how to read could become an advantage if literacy is eclipsed online.

    Personally, I believe that regions which are the most deprived materially also have the most to gain from national and regional initiatives that take seriously digital technology’s potential as a catalyst for sustainable wealth-generation and distribution within developing countries. Bill Gates’ insidious efforts to colonize the ‘virtual third world’ via Microsoft’s limitless loss-leaders are as well-documented as his admirable philanthropy, but the real solution lies in rejecting the colonization of virtual space by literate capitalism and instead seeking indigenous and autonomous articulations of new digitally-driven economic models by and for non-literate or marginally-literate communities and economies.

    eBay – like Napster, like Yahoo, like ICQ, like email and browsers themselves – is a facilitative, mediating process. All of these killer apps succeed because they enable exchange – of goods, of music, of data. Capitalist exchange models are are product-driven and vertical. Digital economies are process-driven and horizontal. And significantly, ‘oral’ economies too are often flat and relationship-driven. Moreover, non-literate peoples often possess tremendous skills in facilitating collaborative processes of exchange. It is this overlap – between those at the margins of literacy who are often skilled in community facilitation, improvisation, collaboration, dialogue – and those at the forefront of the virtual realm seeking – but rarely finding – business models that reach beyond the monological consumer model, that the great and unacknowledged mutual interest lies.

    It is there that we can perceive an aligning of skills, values and interests. Yet if infrastructure is lacking in this overlap, awareness is lacking as well. Because I’m suggesting that collaborative alliances between oral and digital activists to develop local commercial applications while addressing and integrating non-literate individuals, communities, cultures and knowledge systems, may yield important economic results; not only for those without water or electricity, but also for digital democrats from around the globe who are being strategically and effectively ensnared by global litigation limiting – in the name of literate capitalism – the freedom to share and reproduce data. I think these two groups need each other’s wisdom and experience and skills and that without meaningful partnerships each will be caught in the difficult web of the WIPO, the WTO and the IMF, with devastating neo-colonial results should digital networks become irrevocably co-opted as agents of economic exploitation in developing countries.

    Other than that I enjoyed the article.

    :)

    js–bluesology – printopolis – digitopiahttp://www.johnsobol.com

  • Ginsberg’s article raises an issue I had never personally considered regarding the digital divide of today’s world. It is clear that as a college student in the US, I am overly privileged when it comes to digital/information technologies. However, the over-abundant presence of such technologies tends to train one into assuming such luxuries are common place. This assumption, in some manner, is perpetuated by the existence of information technology and “first-world” society’s capitalistic structure. The absence of digital technologies in an area or culture, and therefore, the business venture to fill that absence, are ultimately products of capitalism’s focus on profits. If the opportunity is not likely to produce a profit, that area or culture remains on the “un-wired side”. Ginsberg calls on a charitable means to a solution for the digital divide, and in my opinion, that is the only means to reach that end. However, while money provided by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will help minimize the digital gap, a carefully planned system will need to be created as well in order for the newly “wired” to adapt to the technology and turn it into a tool for further investment. Otherwise, a project such as Motoman is, in the end, a capital “black hole,” for example, if the newly provided internet connection is not utilized for a commercial or developmental purpose. Furthermore, Ginsberg makes a clear and simple argument over the trivialness of the digital divide. Ultimately, if those who are “un-wired” cannot provide for themselves nutritionally, educationally, or medically, then providing them with a link to the digital world is irrelevant. The focus should remain on closing the divide in living conditions and basic education before the divide in information technology.

  • The Divide

    I agree with Gates that a computer will not be of much use to places like Africa, where they would much rather have a meal than a computer, but I do believe that in other developing countries, where that issue is stabilized, internet access would change their way of live, and their knowledge on the world. The internet allows us to at the touch of a button go to a very different place and explore a medical term, or problem. It is extremely easy to travel elsewhere and lean things we might not otherwise be able to understand. It is a window of opportunity and we should take advantage of it, but not before having the essentials in life. The Divide then, is not just between technology availability, but also between having certain resources and knowing how to use them.

  • Africa needs Trade and not Aid.

    I could really relate with Ginsburg being an immigrant from Nigeria. Although we had a computer at home, it wasn’t accessible to the internet because we didn’t have any telephone land line. And as for cell phones, my only images of those are from TV shows. Back then, I was definitely in the “un-wired” side of the Digital Divide. Now that I am exposed to all these technology here in the United States, I think it actually makes things a little more complicated than it used to be in Nigeria because I find myself being extracted and distanced from the simple things in life. For instance, back in Nigeria, we were more community and family oriented. Since we had no cell phones or AIM or Yahoo IM, we saw each otherface to face very often and became a family. Well, anything that has an advantage also has a disadvantage. Although I don’t get to see my friends as often, I can talk to so many of them in different locations at the comfort of my home through AIM, Yahoo IM, MSN and cell phone all at the same time. The conversation loses its emotional expression and concentration but is very efficient.

    The last time I visited Nigeria in 2002, the technological advances were impressive. Almost everyone had a cell phone and there were internet cafes where people came to browse the internet and receive and send emails. I thinkthe Digital Divide is slowly closing up. The move by the United Nations, although long awaited, is a step towards closing this digital divide. The assumption of Bill Gates is quite ignorant if you ask me. The world has this generalized view of Africa as this war torn, starving, and illiterate continent; sometimes people even mistake Africa for a country. Well, I hope to not disappoint everyone but not all Africans are starving, not all Africans are illiterates, and aid is not the only thing Africa needs. Some parts of Africa are definitely in need of computers and access to the internet and would maximize all the features they both come with. Technology is important in these days and times and would benefit any society regardless of skin color, language, or location.

  • Corey Pemberton

    Technological advances are playing a crucial role in the globalization of today’s society; the Internet has made the dissemination of information faster and easier than ever before. Faye Ginsberg raises several often overlooked points about the “Digital Divide.” In America, we tend to take our easy access to technologies for granted. I never realized that almost 90% of the world does not have Internet capabilites. The divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is increasing continually. I agree with Ginsberg’s argument that the United Nations has economic reasons behind its drive to spread technology across the globe. Many Americans, myself included, tend to overlook the true sources spurring the “Digital Divide.” I am glad that I read Ginsberg’s article ; she exposed me to the common misconceptions regarding this digital disparity.Ginsberg’s arguments are logically sound. If you think about it, how is exposing undeveloped societies to computers and technology going to improve their situation? I am a strong proponent for spreading this technology, but I think it should be done in a gradual manner. After all, new technologies won’t make a nation wealthy when that nation doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the technologies. If the United Nations continues to aid these developing countries where they need it most (electricity, running water, roads, etc.), They can slowly implement the new technology when their capacity to maintain it is fulfilled.Ginsberg’s article does an excellent job in exposing often-overlooked reasoning behind the “Digital Divide.” present in our world today. If we aid developing countries build from the bare necessities upwards, the results would be much more satisfactory. Once developing countries get the new technology (after electricity and running water of course), they will be able to connect with the rest of digital society while we all can benefit from the enormous emerging technological market.

  • Digital Technology is not the Solution to Every Problem

    Before I read this article I had the belief that it is in digital technology’s nature to provide society with the ability to advance. Digital technology lowers the cost to do many more tasks once the initial investment of a computer or network of computers is met, however some countries don’t even have the ability to power a computer, nor the education to use the internet if they had access to it. I never had stopped to think that this new digital answer doesn’t fit with the still present infrastructure problems faced by developing countries, particularly in Africa. Ginsberg brings up many points of why the solution is more difficult than simply sending computers to Africa so that they can experience the same cultural benefits we had from digital technology. There are many regions lacking in basic reading skills, coupled with shortages in both food and power. Bill Gates sums the situation up well when he says, “O.K., you want to send computers to Africa, what about food and electricity – those computers aren’t going to be that valuable. The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, “my children are dying, what can you do?” Gates has put his efforts back toward health care which, along with education and infrastructure, will provide a more necessary solution than digital technology. For computers to be beneficial infrastructure is important. If these cultures can get a reliable power source then digital technology will become more useful to the populace than it is now. With electricity a single teacher living in a developing culture can use computer programs and the internet to teach better than previously, helping to solve the issue of education. Wireless and satellite technology mean that the actual wired infrastructure that initially brought the internet to the world is an expense that can be skipped. Philanthropy will remain very important since computers and electricity will not solve issues of disease and hunger, but will give the poor a new tool to improve their situation. Ginsberg’s premise is that the mindset encouraged by purveyors of digital technology for the wired 12% is that this technology has solved many important problems, however all of this self-congratulation ignores the fact that digital technology alone cannot and has not solved the fundamental problems faced by societies for whom digital technology has so far only answered questions that they aren’t yet able to ask.

  • This article raises several key discussions about wiring the unwired side of the digital divide. I think to myself, “wow there are millions of people out there without the same digital resources that I have” and it amazes me to think about. Being a filmmaker, the digital tool i have at my disposal define who I am and my life from day to day. If i am not on the internet or chatting on messengers I am editing something on my computer and if im not on a computer im on a cell phone. As scary as it sounds digital technology takes up a major part of my life and is the tool by which i plan to make a living. To think that most of the world is disconnected from these resources and tools is astounding. I for one done know what my life would be like without what I have at my disposal now. However the article also raises another point which makes one think harder about the digital divide. While i may be worried about keying out a green screen in some video footage im editing, someone else on the other side of the digital divide would almost certainly be more worried about what meal they will be eating next if at all. While many resources are not made readily available to the world, health and well being along with an education must preceed any technological advancement. We are at a point in our society today where digital technology is pushing our industries and without the proper education a computer is worthless to someone who lives in a society that does not lend itself to the technology. The digital divide is an important discussion but is still a very distant third place to Health, and education. Once the poor parts of the world are caught up as far as health, and education are concerned then the relevance of closing the digital divide will begin to take priority.

  • Bill Gates is a nerd

    Many of Faye Ginsburg’s theories towards the digital divide are well reasoned and stress very real, very legitimate concerns that the United Nations’ “Digital Solidarity Fund” will not produce any tangible benefit for the people of developing nations. However, I feel that her theories are flawed in their consideration of the long-term futures of third world countries. If we, the people of a privileged first world nation, continue to offer superficial aid in the form of medicine and food, nothing but a temporary alleviation of the suffering of those in need will result; economic instability, political unrest and under education will continue – the roots of the problem will continue to grow. Furthermore, the problem with Bill Gates’ assumption, I feel, is not only that he oversimplifies the burgeoning problem with African economies to an issue of disease, but that he advocates the western world lending aid to Africa in a manner that resembles a mother tending to a helpless child’s injury. Our duty as a prosperous nation is to foster the autonomy of these developing countries – to help them help themselves, rather than just sending medical aid. The rapidly growing possibility of distributing digital technology across the globe is approaching a point where globalization of educational, political and cultural ideals is a very real possibility. If we could implement programming that would allow peoples, such as the lower middle class of Costa Maya that I visited last Thanksgiving, to use their satellites to receive images and stories more useful than the fragmented clips of “The Bold and The Beautiful” that they were watching then maybe Ginsburg and co. would be forced to rethink their cynical and backwards looking philosophy. The spread of technology and the closing of the digital divide is a powerful, albeit highly dangerous phenomenon, but one that can absolutely be used in the spread of educationally progressive doctrines to benefit the world that we live in.

  • Essentially, the digital divide limits the world’s ability to communicate on much greater levels. Because only a small chunk of the planet’s population has access to the inter-web, only a minute selection of voices are represented and accessible to all. Almost all news coverage contains bias and, depending on the gatekeeper, the material presented is limited. If we, as a whole, utilized computers and the internet, a mass communication device, to share news, political views, and information, then people would not need to depend on the corrupt system we know as news and the media (my apologizes if you work in this particular field and no offense). It is imperative to enable the “poor” of the world internet access in order to improve self-representation, and equal representation on the web, a rapidly growing information source.
    As for the actual text concerning the above situation, it too contained a notably bias opinion on the subject which I found rather irritating. Towards the end of the article seemed to be pounding on the idea that, “a computer is not useful if you have no food or electricity and cannot read.” The statement directly before read:

    the debate over the digital divide is founded on a myth–that plugging poor countries into the internet will help them to become rich rapidly … So even if it were possible to wave a magic wand and cause a computer to appear in every household on earth, it would not achieve very much.

    It is not the intention of the United Nations to make the poor “get rich quick.” Also, by suggesting that the plan is to place a personal computer at every household’s door step the U.N.’s “Digital Solidarity Fund” and actual action on the program seems trivial. It certainly is irrational to hand access to a medium which one does not have the skill to assess. However, by slowly working outwardly, first with a new school facilities, such as the elementary school in O Siengle, Cambodia, and then to other growing communities we can slowly become equally educated and represented equally.

    The assumption that the mass of computer users interest lies in online auctioning is a strategic essentialism by Bill Gates. “The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, “my children are dying, what can you do?” They’re not going to sit there and like, browse eBay or something,” was a comment Gates made in a speech in 2000, at a conference entitled Creating Digital Dividends. By first enabling a program for education in such a poor environment, then creating access the all the world, one has the ability to finally utilize the internet efficiently and create a mass peer to peer communication device, not to mention news delivered in several perspectives as opposed to the daily bias large corporations feed to the masses labeled as news.

  • After reading Ginsburg’s article, I am only now trying to let the term and it’s possible solutions resonate in my mind. Because over 80% of the world is on the losing side of the digital divide, as well as everything else, implementing an effective plan to bring an end to this divide is overwhelming. Along with comments like the one from Bill Gates, “The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, “my children are dying, what can you do?” complicates the issue even more because much of the world does not even has enough food, medical attention, education, and other essentials which people need to live. It seems like Gates and others feel the digital divide should not even be addressed until these other issues are taken care of first. I find this to be problematic because unless we change are economic structure from capitalism to some to something based on human rights and equality, these problems will never be solved. Basic radio, TV, or internet in areas where massive poverty is overwhelming could offer a ray of hope in this increasingly dismal world by simply giving these people an oppertunity to use the technologies. Some in turn might use them and learn from them and then use the knowlege gained to to try and improve their situation along with the situation of thier community, country, world, etc. Just focusing of food and basics is not a good solution because technology has the power to create social change through educating people about the world around them.

  • Travis Wimberly

    Focus

    My entire opinion on the matter of the digital divide in these countries can essentially be smmed up by Ginsburg’s statement here: “Rather than giving out computers, Gates’ priorities for his Foundation are now with health care, in particular the development and distribution of vaccines which account for two-thirds of the grants made. “. The keyword in this sentence is the word “now”. For many, like Gates, a shift has already been made from concern with “wiring” these countries on the other side of the divide to a concern with providing the basics needed for sustained life–nutrition, medicine, education, etc. I think that one of the most important things we in a “first world” society can do is take a step back and realize that, for many of these nations, the problems the citizens encounter daily extend far, far, far beyond the fact that they aren’t “wired in” to the information superhighway. Famine, disease, poor literacy…these are the KEY issues which must be addressed first. If organizations like the WSIS care to make their focus this digital divide and how we as a world can work to get everyone equal access to the ether, that’s fine, but the majority of us need be much more concerned with the fact that the citizens in these nations often live in very poor conditions–digital divide aside. Until those of us who are privileged can help bring the quality of life in these nations up to an acceptable standard, there is little point in concerning ourselves with how they will access the internet, cell phones, or whatever else. The health and well-being of the citizens of these countries is far more important than whether or not they have access to the information superhighway.

  • Jessica Gutierrez

    Thanks for Nothing

    A lot of us who live in developed countries take for granted such basic necessities in life such as drinkable water, edible food, and adequate shelter. We may try to sympathize with people who live in such conditions, but most of us really have no idea of the actuality this kind of living includes. This perhaps explains in a way why some people think that giving those who live in developing countries computers and internet access will solve all their problems. It might solve the problems of those whom we would call the ‘underprivileged’ people who live in the United States, but for those living in developing countries, dying from disease, dehydration, and starvation, computers with internet access isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference to them. Not only do those trying to solve developing countries problems with technology misunderstand these peoples actual needs, they also oversee other obstacles such as language barriers, lack of literacy, and just a basic lack of knowledge on how to use such technology. People who live in developing countries most likely do not have prior knowledge on how to operate a computer or use the internet, and/or other technologies to bring about their development. Also, most technological language is written in English, which would obviously be difficult to use and understand if one did not know the language. Furthermore, one cannot ask people to use such technology in any language if they cannot read or write to begin with in their own. I believe it is a good thing to try and help balance “the uneven distribution of new information and communication technologies,” but we must make sure that we are not trying to close for these developing countries, a useless divide.

  • Radhika Gajjala

    I agree with points made in the article – not enough writers about the internet and related digital technologies are thinking through such lenses, sadly.

    Ginsburgh writes “My concern here is with how the language smuggles in a set of assumptions that paper over cultural and economic differences in the way things digital may be taken up, if at all, in radically different contexts, and thus serve to further insulate thinking against recognition of alterity that different kinds of media worlds present. “and I fully agree with this.

    Gutierrez gives further examples of how this emphasis on digital “progress” pushes aside issues of need.

    Interestingly enough – the “digital divide” is relevant to various economically underprivileged regions of the world (and I would not say these are just in the “developing world” geographically) because of how digital presences and e-merging voice in such contexts replays certain kinds of privilege over and over again -thus reproducing discourse that does indeed lack relevance to some contexts. The relevance thus exists only insofar as the language shapes the design and access of such technologies further away from the lived realities of those in need while implicitly asking them to “keep up”. Not only do they need sturdy bootstraps – they now need rocket accelerators and more attached to the bootstraps that they are supposed pick themselves “up” with….

    _____ http://sa-cyborgs.blogspot.com ____

  • a series of binaries

    Faye Ginsburg writes that “terms like the digital divide too easily foreclose discussion about what the stakes are for those who are out of power”. Too often the digital divide is presented as a binary proposition: a population (generally a nation) is either wired or it is not, just as countries are either developed or “underdeveloped” or “developing”. The linearity of such ideas of progress and the assumptions built into “inclusion” obscure the kinds of possibilities that networking people from diverse contexts actually creates.

    Basic needs and information technology have also been positioned as an either/ or proposition at least Gates’ famous comments. (Another thing interesting about Gates’ comments at the Digital Dividends conference is that he was trying to educate an audience of tech CEOs not known for their interest in development issues.) I agree with John Sobol when he writes that “[a] computer can be of use to someone without food or electricity if it helps someone else acquire food and electricity on their behalf”.

    Finally, the question of NGO intervention is also set in opposition to the effects of free market behavior. The Economist’s editorial usefully observes that “the digital divide is not a problem in itself, but a symptom of deeper, more important divides: of income, development and literacy”. But the editorial concludes that “Rather than trying to close the digital divide through top-down IT infrastructure projects, governments in the developing world should open their telecoms markets”. Building infrastructure and capacity can benefit an entire nation, not only telecom entrepreneurs, and the benefits should be understood as more than that which can be measured in terms of growth in GDP.

    Because digital divide issues have been positioned as development issues, First Worldism does not come up much in discussion as the goals of development are consensually acknowledged and unspoken. There are certainly plenty of creative approaches to development with information technologies out there, but the unexamined areas include the perspectives of people who come to technology with the ability to redefine what technology can mean for themselves and for all of us. Ginsburg’s observation that “[ideas] of what the digital age might offer look different from the perspective of people struggling to manage to make ends meet on a daily basis” is an important one and does not have to be a development question. Thanks for the article.

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