Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't End Up At The Wrong Side

The digital divide is real and which side are you at?

On one side, you have people with effective access to digital and information technology. On the other side, you have people with no knowledge or no access or both. In between, you have people who are constantly chasing to reach the correct end.

Digital divide exists across different social groups and people from different countries. Presumably, the gap is closing but the real question is whether it is closing fast enough.

What is the big fuss about the digital divide and why can't we leave it gaping? The simple answer lies in the way we interact.

In today's society, jobs and education are directly related to the Internet. Not having access to Internet can leave a person vulnerable and he risks being left behind in this fast-paced world.
Increasingly, the traditional tactile world is creeping into the cyber space. It is no longer a case of preference and the shift is hastening.

Companies are getting their businesses done over the Internet. Having at least their presence in the cyber space is what their customers would have expected of them nowadays.
When was the last time you pull out your YellowPages when you needed to contact a restaurant to make reservation? Companies which end up at the wrong end of the digital divide cannot compete effectively and will either struggle to survive or get kicked out of the game.

The government-and-citizen interaction now commonly takes place in the cyber space too. It is no longer fashionable but essential to provide e-government services with portals used as intermediaries replacing the need for people to queue in traditional offices.

In schools, our children are being exposed to the use of computers and they literally have not idea how the world is like without technology. The Generation-Z will grow up knowing how to interact using the computers best. They will not be able to imagine and will show little empathy for those at the wrong side of the digital divide.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), has a plan to give everyone in Singapore seamless access to intelligent technology within the next decade with the iN2015 blueprint. According IDA, the household broadband penetration in Singapore is 81% in 2008. One of their goals is up this rate to 90% by 2015 and reach 100% PC ownership in homes with school-going children.

When that happens, Singapore, as well as many other similarly developed nations will be more integrated via the cyber world. We will see the first batch of generation-Z coming out of schools and ready to take on the world from within the cyber space.

The digital divide will continue to cast people across the spectrum. If you are on the unfavorable side, you will lose the generation-Z and your ability to connect to the world through them.

We still have some work to do to close the gap but there are those in other parts of the world who are in even more critical need to get help. One of such help is coming from the One Laptop Per Child Association (OLPC) which is a non-profit organisation set up to promote the use of affordable educational device in developing nations.

The OLPC aims to design an affordable laptop under US$100 and a distribution system to provide children in the third world with technological learning opportunities.
Projects like OLPC will offer a partial solution to digital divide for people in countries like Mexico and Peru.

Back here in Singapore, we have less affordability issue. Rather, we lack the sense of urgency to embrace the advent of the real world coming into existence in the virtual space. The digital divide will not go away but you risk sliding further to the wrong side over time. Sticking to the same spot on the scale requires effort and progressing requires even more.

If you are contented with merely knowing how to use emails and searching the Internet, you are in for a 'weeding out' game. When the rest of the world are fused in the cyber space, it will be 'Game Over' for you.

I am doing what I can to shift myself to the right end of the digital divide. The shift can be exhausting but it is not a matter of choice.

Well, I hope I will progress to the right end. See you there!


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