Friday, February 04, 2011


Digital Divide as the new "Iron Curtain"

The digital divide is becoming the new "Iron Curtain" of the 21st century. That is, there is a significant group of citizens even in the United States that are walled off from access to the rapidly growing Net by lack of knowledge and wealth to the technology and software of the 21st century. They are increasingly as restricted from participation in the economically and politically viable part of world culture as those left behind the Iron Curtain in the 20th century (left photo). The new digital wall is invisible. It is not created by powerful, nationally centralized and impersonal control from individuals, but by powerful globally decentralized and impersonal networks. In democracies, our vote on policies control access. To move national and global culture forward, citizens are re-examining the nature of the universal rights of citizenship and the value of questioning and communicating that digital access promotes.

The digital divide, though the most significant, is just one of the many information age gaps brought about by the data explosion.

Finland (Pictet, 2010) is the first to recognize that the creation of a fully functional information society requires access to high speed broadband as a legal right. The cost of the Net access device, some form of computer, is increasingly a minor to trivial cost. The more major barrier is the monthly cost of access to the Net. Many countries are edging towards joining Finland in the world's new liberation zone. Japan, South Korea and Sweden have moved the cost down to under a dollar a month for very high speed services at many times the national average speed in the United States. Other policies such as Britain's Race Online 2012, currently provide cheap refurbished PCs with subsidized Net connections seeking to "make the UK the first nation in the world where everyone can use the Web" (HM Government, 2011).

The flipside of this issue is the cost of not having or losing Net services and not educating and digitally liberating citizens. The current disturbances within Egypt (February, 2011) that shut down that small country's access to the Net cost the country over $90 million dollars in just 5 days (Bryant, 2011). The digital divide shuts down far more at a cost that researchers are just beginning to analyze (Delgado, 2010), but by implication a high multiple of the cost to Egypt.

It is time to tear down that wall. The wall must go.

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