An Introduction to the Digital Divide

Article published on Nov. 28, 2002
community published
Article published on Nov. 28, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The heart of the matter concerns people, dignity, lives and building a better world. For this simple reason we need to eradicate the Digital Divide.

If today the little prince of the novel of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was to undertake once again his fantastic voyage in search of a friend, I believe that he would run away from earth long before missing the rose that he loves. He would feel horrified in front of the dramas of Srebenica, Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan. He would cry on the ruins of the twin towers, reflecting on the future of people that earn one dollar a day even if they work for sixteen hours a day living an existence with a future in which they will never feel the best emotions that life can offer; they won’t be able to dream, love, know, play and they wont’ even have a few seconds to laugh happily or contemplate the sun as it rises. Their destinies are suffocated at the cradle just because their first breath is given in the arms of a woman whose only fault is to live in a less lucky angle of the planet. The little prince would escape frightened, if he were to know that many don’t have the right to express an opinion, to have a doubt, to pray a God because there is somebody who wants to exercise control even in the intimacy of a conscience. After having reflected on all this for a few seconds, with a sorrow on his face, the little prince would close his eyes and return home.

Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but like John Lennon, whistling “Imagine”, I hope that I’m not the only one. I believe that something can be changed and – even if my bullets are empty – I’d like to throw a pebble in the great river of ideas by proposing an approach based on the conviction that ethical principles cannot be treated solely as ideals but that they indeed determine practical action.

The Digital Divide, the technological gap between rich areas and poor areas of the world, excludes every day millions of people from the global benefits that life can offer. There are parts of the world where each day people communicate through mobile phones, e-mails, have an ever faster access to information, knowledge, images and sounds. For these people the window onto the world is always wide open and this “privilege” is taken for granted as it’s available since birth. In other parts of the planet men and women live in a black-and-white universe where, often, talking freely is a risky action, where they don’t see, listen, know and can’t discover the planet. Unfortunately, the destiny of these people is also dramatically taken for granted.

The digital divide, rather than being a simple technological gap between the north and south of the world, is in fact a barrier between human beings; an invisible wall that can’t be climbed, which kills all hope of dialogue and development. Today we live in a globe where there is interdependence, where all fields are linked and where “the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Peru may eventually influence the winds of Brazil”. The heart of the matter therefore concerns people, dignity, lives and building a better world. For this simple reason we need to eradicate the Digital Divide. Something must be done to bring down the invisible wall.

All this is not only ethical ideals, as it may seem, but also political realism as individual emancipation, trade, dialogue between different cultures, human rights, prevention of instability around the planet and prevention of conflicts through social and economical development are, if we reason for a while, in some way linked. Education played for example a fundamental role in women’s emancipation in the western world; but just a few decades ago there were men who exterminated other men in concentration camps and, even before others who burnt women on fires accusing them of witchcraft. For long, we have witnessed people growing old, bitterly disappointed by the continuos inability of the earth’s most powerful specie to face the continuos negative consequences of its own actions. Today if we aspire to a better world, something must change, reflecting the best and the greatness that life can give. We believe that a “dialogue between civilizations” is vital but if the strong shouts and the weak is mute, this dialogue is unfair. The weak must have a voice and be heard. Most of the disasters that we have recently lived were all announced but humanity has always opened its eyes when it was too late or at times didn’t even open them. We need to open our eyes on time and begin walking those routes that lead to prevention through development. Indeed, one can keep the eyes closed or decide not to turn a blind eye. It is a choice. A choice that means that the future and the growth of humanity into adulthood is also in our hands.

One can intervene in two directions, from above through rules or short term actions, this is mainly what institutions and diplomacy do. Or one can intervene from the base implementing long-term sustainable growth. The latter is what we require to do and, along the way, set up alliances with others who do the same. Above all, we need to work together, with the conviction that the two solutions can and must co-exist simultaneously, as they are both necessary. In this scope, “together” means simultaneously top down and bottom up processes, simultaneously conflict and agreement, competition and collaboration, protest and celebration, change and conservation, learning and forgetting and, above all, building together the new knowledge society in which sharing the fruits of knowledge, technology, Earth and space, becomes the foundation of justice and peace.

Of course, it is often easier to reach consensus around the need to stop something that has become visibly threatening than to agree on positive goals, strategies, paths and responsibilities to build something new. Yet this is precisely what we are called upon to do today in order to build a new society – a knowledge society that truly exploits the achievements in knowledge and technology for the benefit of all people and the planet.

If it’s true that globalisation has increased the gap between the haves and the have nots, it’s also true that it has allowed us to have an awareness of the problem and the paradox is that it has provided us with a potential solution. We need to implement this potentiality. The linkage between societies, governments, governance, cultures, markets, ideals and people, in one word globalisation, gives us the opportunity to do this. But we need to give globalisation a human face. By globalisation I don’t mean a maximum profit philosophy with no moral or juridical rules, which is what we witness today. We need to promote the development of grassroot projects because these strengthen the base of a society growing roots and building the necessary pillars of future growth, education, health, fair trade through ICT. ICT have the potential to link people across the world, this leads to endless opportunities for information exchange.

We need to find synergies between all those concerned with bridging the digital divide because together voices can be heard and solutions and ideas become concrete actions. The seeds of change must take root in the base of each society, in order to generate long-term solutions that will allow today’s and tomorrow’s children, in third world countries, to become adults who possess the necessary instruments to have an active role in the global society. Grass root projects lead to individual emancipation, knowledge, awareness of rights. They provide human beings with the tools necessary to play the game and to have an active role in it. All this is necessary and vital as the air that we breathe each day if change, development and benefits for all are our goals. If growth begins from the base then we may help societies to walk on their own legs. As Carlo Rosselli, founder of liberal socialism in Italy wrote from behind the bars of a prison in 1922, what’s the use for a man to have the freedom to print a newspaper when he doesn’t even have the money to buy one? We need to go beyond rhetoric and build the fundamentals on which societies may develop through a self-awareness of where they wish to arrive. The one resource that liberates people from poverty and leads to empowerment is knowledge. Possessing knowledge is empowering while lack of knowledge is debilitating.

In this optic and because of this belief we have created The web site is built on the deep conviction that a fundamental mechanism to bridging the digital divide is to strengthen the base of a society. In the e-inclusionsite, through a simple click one donates Euro 5 cents to finance educational projects in poor areas of the world. What one actually donates is a few second of one’s time as the money is entirely donated through sponsorships. Another fundamental concept of the website is a people’s declaration, written by Prof. Alfonso Molina. This declaration is addressed to people, individuals of whatever background and profession: students, consumers, citizens, presidents, rich, poor, members of organizations, Ph.D.s, illiterates or, more simply, all inhabitants of the planet from any town, community, region or nation of the globe. It intends to be promoter of the ideal that an unequal globe can be challenged. All those that believe in this ideal can sign it. The aim is to stimulate the growth of a transversal global e-inclusion movement to challenge the “divide”, but if this voice is to be heard then we need your support and that of all the people who share the vision of an information society for all through clicks, subscriptions and alliances: simple actions, yet so important.

Today we are inviting you to look in the same direction through a workshop, to find synergies between ideas, experiences, actions, dialogue with senior organizations and, above all, to stimulate a global e-inclusion movement where everybody is welcome to participate. This global e-inclusion movement can become a “movement for movements”, a platform on which altogether we can work, discuss, exchange thoughts, resources and unite projects.

In the horizon a new globe is already visible. We hope that these initiatives will be only the first brick of a solid bridge that shall erase the gap between the haves and the have nots and transform our drops of concern into an ocean of change. The philosophy of the is therefore that everybody can contribute in the battle against poverty, misery and exclusion. People aren’t automatically excluded and walls aren’t automatically built. Together we all have the opportunity to contribute in transforming the dream of the knowledge society for all into reality. All this is not easy, as constructing is far harder than destroying, dialogue far harder than violence, but this isn’t an excuse for not doing anything at all, and I believe that it’s a matter of will. I would like to end this introduction with the final verse of the poem of Nazim Hikmet “On Life”:

This earth will grow cold,

a star among stars

and one of the smallest,

a gilded mote on blue velvet-

I mean this, our great earth.

This earth will grow cold one day,

not like a block of ice

or a dead cloud even

but like an empty walnut it will roll along

in pitch-black space ...

You must grieve for this right now

-you have to feel this sorrow now-

for the world must be loved this much

if you're going to say ``I lived'' ...