Working in Education Abroad, I am quite interested in Nayar’s (2010) take on the “digital divide”, particularly the global divide, or the divergence in internet access between developed and developing countries. On one hand, new technology and systems of networked communication offer ways for citizens in all countries to access more information, improve basic services like health care and education, create economic opportunities, and give a voice to those who are marginalized. But on the other hand, the internet does not do a whole lot of good if is not accessible to and by the populations who need it. In the United States I think that internet and its access to information is practically a basic need, like electricity, water, health care, and education. One question, therefore, is whether the digital divide will shrink or continue to widen in the future. Will access to internet level the playing field between developed countries and developing countries, or will it create, as Norris (2001) considered, a cultural imperialism? A look at recent statistics on world-wide internet usage is eye-opening.
In just over a decade internet usage in Asia jumped 842%; in the Middle East, 2,640%; and in Africa, 3,607%. The internet penetration as percentage of population for these three regions is still relatively low, but it is hard to imagine that the number of internet users in the developing world will not continue to rise rapidly.
On a side note, over the past few years I have been participating in a micro-lending organization called Kiva.org. Kiva allows you to support small businesses in the developing world through $25 micro-loans, which the local entrepreneur then pays back over a period of time. In the past I have been able to support a tech company in Armenia, a textiles worker in Peru, farmers in Azerbaijan, and a health care co-op in Uganda. After the loan is paid back, I simply re-lend it to the next entrepreneur. It is this outcome of cyberculture that excites me the most, the ability to connect disparate social groups or to coalesce around shared causes, particularly those causes that one wouldn’t be able to engage in without the internet. It’s the extension of the self, as Nayar suggested, into the cyber world. The potential is there to mobilize civic groups around global human rights issues or environmental causes, and perhaps further narrow the global and social divides.
Nayar, P. (2010). An Introduction to New Media and Cybercultures. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Norris, P. ( 2001). Digital Divide? Civic Engagement, Information Poverty and the Internet in Democratic Societies. [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/pnorris/Acrobat/psa2000dig.pdf