We are a nomadic studio and — when we operate in underserved areas of the world — one of the biggest problems we face is the difficulty in delivery our works (hi-res photographs, HD videos, book/magazine master files, etc) through the Internet. Often we are unable to meet delivery times, other times we lose commissions or opportunities.
In practice, we experience on our own skin some effects of the global digital divide, i.e. the disparities in opportunity between developed and developing countries for the access to the Internet and all the information, educational and business opportunities derived from this access.
It is generally a fact that delivery and access to digital content in developing countries is below what is required to bridge the current gap despite progress made in areas such as mobile connectivity or the digitization of content.
The global digital divide also contributes to the inequality of access to goods and services available through technology. Computers and internet provide users with improved education which can lead to higher wages, therefore the people living in nations with limited access are disadvantaged.
Various statistics showed that the broadband connection rate in developed countries is far higher than in developing and least-developed countries, i.e. only half of the 50 least developed countries have broadband service and broadband penetration amounts to less than one percent in Africa.
We face a challenge of how to take advantage of these technologies and digital content to solve global problems of peace, sustainable development and poverty eradication. For example this means using wireless information and communications technologies to increase access to knowledge for a greater proportion of humanity — possibly through non-written format (images and sound).
Why it is important to expand ITC in developing countries
Of course technology, internet and ICT are not a panacea for all the problems of developing countries. However, digital divide has important implications for these countries as the uneven distribution of ICTs access may mean that segments or groups who have no or limited accessibility to these technologies may be denied of socio-economic opportunities such as:
Economic Growth and Innovations. Long term economic growth has often been associated with technological progress. Bridging the digital divide has implications in terms of fostering economic equality, educational potential and earning potential.
Social equality. ITC has the potential to dispel disadvantages that may be associated with cultural barriers. For example, ITC may be used to improve gender quality in education. Through ITC, girls may undertake their education through e-learning at home in a society where cultural barriers isolate girls. In addition, they may be empowered to utilize high-end technology in their economic participation in later years.
Social mobility. It refers to the upward movement in status of individuals or groups based on wealth, occupation, education, or some other social variable in a society where one status is not dictated or decreed by birth of origin. Advancements in ICTs are capable of bestowing advantages in education, job-training, health-care as well as social networking and quality of life that they could make a difference between upward social mobility and a declining standard of living. In other words, ITC could improve life for those who are within reach of these technologies.
Partecipation. ITC can be a powerful tool for increasing transparency and facilitating information and communication processes among stakeholders. ITC may lead to increased democratization by enabling citizens or constituents to participate in their community decision- making process through the electronic channel.
Obstacles to overcome
Minimizing the global digital divide requires considering and addressing the following types of access:
“Moral” obstacles. Many argue that basic necessities need to be considered before achieving digital inclusion, such as an ample food supply and quality health care.
Physical access. Individuals need to obtain access to computers, landlines and networks in order to access the Internet. This access barrier is also addressed in Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations.
Financial access. The cost of ICT devices, traffic, applications, technician and educator training, software, maintenance and infrastructures require ongoing financial means.
Socio-demographic access. Empirical tests have identified that several socio-demographic characteristics foster or limit ICT access and usage. Among different countries, educational levels and income are the most powerful explanatory variables, with age being a third one. Others, like gender, don’t seem to have much of an independent effect.
Cognitive access. In order to use computer technology, a certain level of information literacy is needed. Further challenges include information overload and the ability to find and use reliable information.
Design Access. Computers need to be accessible to individuals with different learning and physical abilities (a good starting point could be the Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 in the United States).
Institutional access. The numbers of users are greatly affected by whether access is offered only through individual homes or whether it is offered through schools, community centers, religious institutions, cybercafés, or post offices, especially in poor countries where computer access at work or home is highly limited.
Political access. Democratic political regimes enable a faster growth of the Internet than authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. The Internet is considered a form of e-democracy and attempting to control what citizens can or cannot view is in contradiction to this.
Cultural access. Many experts claim that bridging the digital divide is not sufficient and that the images and language needed to be conveyed in a language and images that can be read across different cultural lines.
Is this a possible solution?
Internet.org is a partnership between social networking service company Facebook and six mobile phone companies: Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera Software, and Qualcomm.
Internet.org aims to bring affordable Internet access to everybody by increasing affordability, increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access. It’s a controversial project: is Internet.org really about humanitarianism, or is it more about Facebook trying to expand its reach?