Technology has helped to make many social and economic advances in our society. However, ironically, many tech advances have also created a digital gap and widen the divide among the world’s rich and poor. Last year Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the Mobile World Congress that while the poor will gain access to better technologies over the next decade, their advancements will pale in comparison to that of the rich.
“We need to act now to avoid the digital caste system I’m talking about,” Schmidt said. “We can create a global network of equals.”
Global Wire Associates is launching the “Dismantle the Digital Caste System” campaign as a way to look more in-depth at the issues that continue to create a divide, and how technology can not only level the playing field for marginalized communities, but also support a vigorous economy. According to IT research group Gartner, by 2013, more people will use mobile devices than PCs to access the Internet, and many of those devices will be purchased in the developing world. Technology is the great equalizer and it has potential to help take many more people out of poverty.
As the economic downturn continues, many are turning to new entrepreneurial opportunities in the technology and innovation sectors. We will spend the next year highlighting those entrepreneurs, as well as have discussions about other issues that contribute to the digital barrier such as poor broadband access, infrastructure, and racial, cultural and gender bias.
For example, the United Nations released a new report Women on the Web, showing that an average of 23 percent fewer women than men are online in developing countries. Although the report shows that this barrier is caused by poor availability and affordability, cultural and religious stigma around women using computers in many countries still persists. The report makes many suggestions for eradicating the problem, such as grooming female role models to train and support other females in their communities about ICT issues and how to become tech entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Locally relevant and culturally appropriate content will drive more women online. For example, the report cites Yasmine El-Mehairy and Zeinab Sami, cofounders of the popular Egyptian “mommy blog” SuperMama, who started their site in 2010 out of a need to provide quality information in Arabic to new mothers throughout the Middle East. El-Mehairy is neither a mother or even married; she just saw a business opportunity and went with it. The company now has 10 employees.
We won’t be just looking at the digital gap in developing countries; there are still many tech barriers in Western countries as well. Approximately 19 million Americans don’t have broadband access and there is a serious lack of racial diversity in Silicon Valley.
Like with our “Recharge E-waste” campaign last year, we hope we can start to dismantle the digital caste system by simply bringing more awareness to this growing problem.