Great read in this week’s Economist on the digital divide. Important for every communicator thinking about social responsibility programs. Far too often the approach is to take whatever technology the company has, offer a freebie to developing nations, then launch into a discussion on the digitial divide. With lots of arm waving and pictures of children. The Economist really gets at the issue:
divide is not a problem in itself, but a symptom of deeper, more
important divides: of income, development and literacy. Fewer people in
poor countries than in rich ones own computers and have access to the
internet simply because they are too poor, are illiterate, or have
other more pressing concerns, such as food, health care and security.
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
They get at the need for mobile phones, not PCs:
…by promoting the spread not of PCs and the internet, but of mobile phones… Plenty of
evidence suggests that the mobile phone is the technology with the
greatest impact on development. A new paper finds that mobile phones
raise long-term growth rates, that their impact is twice as big in
developing nations as in developed ones, and that an extra ten phones
per 100 people in a typical developing country increases GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points…
That’s where they loose me a little… Let’s not confuse PCs and the Internet. The Internet is equally important on the phone. Perhaps more important. And it’s the seamless connection between a PC in the developing world and a mobile device in the developing – all across the Internet – that really opens the door to opportunity.
The action for communicators is a clear one though: If you want to make the digital divide an agenda item in your pursuit of social responsibility – if you want to make it a platform for your senior executives – then you’ll need to do better than most have up until now.