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Digesting the digital divide

I was listening to technology podcast the other day and heard an interesting article about recent research into the 'digital divide' and the difference between how computers, the internet and technology are being used between developing and developed nations.

Over the years a common assumption has been that with the growth of the internet, and the transformance of the world into an 'information society', developing countries would be better equipped to compete with the developed world and pull themselves out of poverty. The university study which was featured on the podcast however has shown that, in collating data over the last 10 years or so, there is still a sizeable digital gap.

This finding in itself is not particularly surprising, but the research throws more light on the nature of the divide. For example, in its first key finding, it was observed that the equality of personal computer distribution in the world has actually worsened between 2000-2005. On the flip side though, the distribution of mobile phones has improved significantly, and is the primary means of technology in the hands of many everyday people in the developing world.

There are many great and varied reasons for trends such as these, and a key intention of the report is to help aid organisations and official bodies direct their resources more effectively.

Computer use in Latin America

Research like this is of particular interest to me, as I measure the impact of what I'm doing here in Latin America as a web designer, and in what direction I should best be focusing my efforts.

As such, I was particularly drawn to their fourth key finding. This in summary found that 'developing countries put more content online than into books'. The results were most distinctive for Latin America. By comparing book production with the number of web hosts, it found that whereas between 1997-2003 book production had increased by 25%, the number of web hosts has increased by whopping 2532%.

This is a curious finding, as according to the study, it's not the cheapest thing to use the internet in Latin America. For example, whereas the cost of using an internet cafe for one hour in London costs between 4-13% of an average daily income, in Mexico City it costs between 4-24% of an average daily income. In Buenos Aires it is between 11-26%, and in Sao Paulo that increases to 34%. And if you're in Cuba, forget it. My own experience a month or so back meant that for 2 or 3 US dollars, I got just half an hour. Bear in mind that most Cubans probably earn a fraction of that in a day, I don't think they get much chance to surf the web in their free time. Though Cuba maybe is an exception.

Whatever the costs, internet use does seem to be very popular here in Latin America. Anecdotally, a retiring missionary from Brazil told me last year that he was able to file his tax returns over the web in 1996 - when the internet was just a twinkle in the eye of the UK government.

What does this mean for me?

Well, this is all information to keep an eye on. I don't think it will have a great impact on the work I do for the moment, but with the internet evolving so quickly, I never like to take my eye off where things are going.

The exponential growth of web hosts here in Latin America may be one reason why my services are in demand, but I still lack solid information about actual internet use here, and how it is penetrated in the culture. Is this just Latin America's own 'dot com' bubble? Or is there a real critical mass of internet users here for which I am developing useful web services? I don't mean to be cynical, but I think these are useful questions to ask.

One benefit of my work here maybe to put publications online that we otherwise would not have the finance to put into print. It may also be that, in response to research such as this, I find myself developing more services for mobile phones in the future. It's interesting to see what the next 10 years will bring - let's just hope that the developing world will be a little more developed by then.

1 Comment(s):

Anonymous Air Jordan said...

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