Global Digital Divide and Possible Solutions
Global digital divide is the “great disparities in opportunity to access the Internet and the information and educational/business opportunities tied to this access … between developed and developing countries” (Lu 2001 p. 1). Whereas the digital divide in its traditional format focuses on groups of social class (i.e. race, income, gender, etc…), the global digital divide refers to classes based on geographical divisions and reflects the economic divisions internationally that exist. The Internet, although a great form of democracy across national borders and highly an equal opportunity medium, should in many ways help developing countries establish themselves amongst the developed. However, a conflict in terms of resources to utilize the Internet to its capabilities hinders many, if not all, of the developing countries. To solve such a colossal problem, there are several organizations that try to minimize and narrow the gap of the divide and perhaps bring the developing countries up to speed on communication and technological advancements.
One such organization helping to sponsor outreach programs to solve the global digital divide issue is the IMARA organization at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. IMARA, meaning “power” in the language of Swahili, is a project for “empowering communities through sustainable technology and education” (http://imara.csail.mit.edu/). Some of the services that The Imara Project provides are providing refurbished computers and training skills necessary to connect with the rest of the world, teaching maintenance skills for sustainable development, providing low-cost accessible computers, making technological courses available for citizens, and computer education for children before their adolescent years. The Imara Project’s global objective is to “find and implement long-term, sustainable solutions to make educational technology and resources available to domestic and international communities” (http://imara.csail.mit.edu/).
The projects that Imara does around the world is operated and implemented under the guidance and sponsorship of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Most of the members of Imara are volunteers and staff provided by MIT, whose support of this project is in a very hands-on approach. MIT volunteers and staff have donated their equipment, such as computers, along with their valuable time and expertise into developing this project and making sure it survives. However, despite the work done by Imara, there is still a long way to go to bridge the global digital divide.
Buying and setting up computers inside developing countries and training the natives is not as simple as it sounds and is not the only answer to solving the issue. In order for the bridge to be constructed between the haves and have-nots, it must start with the governments and their willingness to allow their infrastructure to develop and their citizens to progress. This would take some investment, but with projects like the Imara, it is feasible, but governments must let their guards down a little bit in order for such growth to occur. It is understood that the Internet is a “great equalizer,” so it is important the developing countries not miss out on opportunities to expand their potential growth, rather than deprive their citizens of the necessary education to survive in the future of advanced technology and communication systems.
It is safe to assume that not all countries are created equal, but to keep it that way would seem unethical. It is rather more principled to acknowledge the lesser powers and help them succeed in their technological understanding. The Internet is only as good and as strong as its users. If some undeveloped or underdeveloped countries were to be left in the cold, then I would argue that the Internet has a missing link, and it would never fulfill its potential as long as that link is missing. Efforts to bridge the digital divide like the “One Laptop Per Child” and Imara Project are moving in the right direction. But it is not enough. Even more, the digital divide not only exists in countries outside of the more developed nations, it also exists within these nations. Low income and households do not always have access to the Internet or even a computer. The work that needs to be done to eliminate or even reduce the digital divide concept requires the involvement of everyone that is privileged enough to have one.