This essay is a review of the global digital divide. It examines how information technologies, especially mobile phones, affect local economies in rural communities in the developing world. Wide scale access to information is essential for development in these places to occur.
This paper will examine the global digital divide and how technologies like mobile phones and the internet can strengthen local economies, and increase overall development in places like Africa,
For people who have access to them, technologies like the internet and mobile phones have made sharing information easier than ever. Individuals and businesses are interacting with people on a scale that never would have been possible before, thanks to mobile phone and the internet. Web cams and satellite images can bring us to some of the most remote parts of the world instantly. On the internet we can search through databases and find information about almost any subject, with the click of a mouse. Education is becoming easier, thanks to new research technologies. Most importantly, new technologies have the potential to expand and create new markets (Waverman, 2007).
New technologies have been booming in the developed parts of the world, but this means people without access to these technologies, particularly those in developing countries, are falling even further behind. Without access to these technologies, people in places like Sub-Saharan Africa,
Today the mobile phone is being introduced into parts of the developing world, with promising results.
Easy international communication is a relatively new convenience. The first trans-Atlantic telephone cable, TAT-1, was installed in 1956 as a joint venture between AT&T and the British Government. Previously, if one wanted to call Europe from the
The internet is also a relatively new technology. It has grown in importance since it was introduced in the early 1990’s. It is hard to deny the massive impact that the internet has had on the world at large. The internet provides potential wide scale communication to any part of the world. Increases in communication leads to increases in collective action. Productivity naturally increases with collective action, which will increase markets (Rheingold, 2008).
The internet has especially changed the business world. Amazon.com fancies itself as a store where customers can come to buy ANYTHING. Craig’s List and eBay have created a market place for anyone with an internet connection to use. All of this technology has become so ingrained in our culture and in our lives. We forget how easy technology makes things. We also forget that in many parts of the world people hardly live with the same level of convenience that we are able to enjoy.
One study estimates only 10% of the world’s population uses the internet on a regular basis. Researchers from the same study claim that access to the internet is related mainly to economic variables. “[We have gathered] evidence to the effect that the average standard of living and the average educational level in a country – arguably the analogs of socioeconomic status at the individual level – are strong predictors of internet use” (Guillen, 2005). The correlation is obviously that lower level incomes lead to lower levels of internet access, due to the expensive costs of supporting the technology. This creates a kind of catch twenty-two; without increased economic development, there will be limited access to information technologies, but in order to increase economic development the population needs access to information technologies. This is a problem that is widening the economic gap between high income nations and low income nations even further.
In order to understand how increased communication can affect economic development, I have looked at a study of fishing villages in
Mobile phones provided fishermen with direct contact to fish markets. Fisherman could call ahead to nearby markets to find those in most need of fish. Fish markets began to stabilize. Fishermen began increasing profits by calling around to different markets in order to find the best prices for fish. The wasted days spent fishing and selling nothing began to disappear. Everyday fishermen were able to sell their fish at the best prices available, and so profits went up. As the markets stabilized the price of fish even went down, creating a situation beneficial to both the consumers and to the fishermen. Profits went up 8% for the fisherman, and prices came down 6% (Waverman, 2007, Jensen 2007). (See figure 2, for statistical information.)
All of this was made possible by an increase in communication. These everyday technologies might not seem like much to us, but to those fishermen in
Some Indian fishermen spend up to 15% of their incomes on mobile phones. This may seem like a lot of money, but it proves just how valuable this technology can be for people in the developing world. Mobile phones provide more than just access to information. In some instances mobile phone bills can be used as a sort of credit report. Someone who owns a mobile phone can show a lender his or her bill to display that they are financially responsible enough to pay a cell phone bill regularly over a length of time. This can be extremely useful in small rural economies, where credit is largely unavailable.
Microlending, a relatively new banking practice, where extremely small loans are issued to poverty stricken individuals, has become immensely popular in places like
It would be naïve to assume that just by introducing cell phones into a region, a region can be saved from economic disparity. One of the many obstacles that needs to be overcome before this technology can be useful is the problem of illiteracy. For some illiterates, using the keypad to dial numbers on a mobile phone might be difficult or impossible. Without some basic skills, mobile phones may be too difficult for some people to use. Without the ability to utilize the technology to its full potential, introducing mobile phones to an illiterate population will fall short of its goal of increasing development.
A major trend in mobile phone use is short message services (SMS), sometimes referred to as text messaging. This technology is useless to an illiterate population, but to a population that can use it properly, it can be immensely useful. Leonard Waverman, professor of Economics at the
In 2005, Jimmy Wales, founder and Monarch of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, began talking about a day when access to the sum of all human knowledge would be made available to every person on the planet (
Those of us who live in the developed parts of the world are privileged with access to technology that is useful as well as entertaining. We need to appreciate this fact and realize the impact that this technology can have on people’s lives. This technology should make us rethink how we approach problems like poverty and even the spread of disease. The internet is a global platform. It has the power to unite the people who use it. Through global communication and the spreading of knowledge worldwide, we can all learn to live together more peacefully. An advanced cyber culture is emerging and we should do our best to include all people on this planet in that community.