Saturday, 4 October 2008

The Digital Divide and Me

When Glyn’s presentation proclaimed that blogs are reflecting the world through communication and that Web 2.0 is “us”, my first thought was “well it's not me”. I have had access to the internet at home since I was 13 and have rarely ventured further than checking my e-mails. My fault entirely, but it begged the question, who is using the internet to communicate, and more importantly, who isn’t? I’ve always thought that one of the main aims (and difficulties) of journalism is to give a voice to people who can’t speak for themselves. Obviously the net and Web 2.0 in particular has massive potential to enable this. I just wondered how it was doing so far.

I looked up a few stats to get a rough idea. In the UK, 99.6% of households could in theory have internet access. However, 40% of the population do not. Not surprisingly, that 40% is the poorest and already most marginalised members of society. Steps are being taken to bridge this digital divide. At the Labour conference last week, Gordon Brown announced a £300 million plan to give 1.4 million of the countries poorest children free broadband access, and that’s great. But as one article highlighted, people need more than just access; they need motivation and education. I’m a middle-class case in point. I guess I’m saying that I take issue with the idea that “anyone” can do it.

Looking globally, just 21.9% of the world’s entire population have internet access, and the breakdown of this figure produces predictable patterns. Estimates vary depending on the source, but according to Internet World Stats 73.6% of North Americans have internet access, compared to just 5.3% of Africans. To put it another way, the industrialised world makes up 88% of the world’s internet users, but only 15% of the global population.

Without churning out anymore numbers, the thing I wanted to explore is this: the rich end of the developed world already has multiple channels for communication, whereas some of the voices we need to hear are still waiting for just one. I’m not saying that existing online and interactive citizen journalism is obsolete, far from it, but maybe the revolution still has a long way to go.

I looked at some of the ways those countries with limited access are using blogs, and found some really interesting examples. Nasim Furkat’s blog, Afghan Lord, written by an Afghani living in Kabul, is worth having a look at . He won the Freedom of Expression Blog Award from Reporters without Borders in 2005, and still blogs regularly. I think the last post was dated September 20th 2008. But there were loads of other examples from Columbia to Cambodia. Also, whilst looking at the This is Zimbabwe blog I found a link to Blog Action Day 2008’s site. It’s on the 15th October, and is a great example of the global conversation the lecture talked about.

I’m well aware that I could be romanticising the aim or potential of blogs, but for something to be described as a global conversation, access also needs to be global. I have also not done any extensive travelling outside of Europe and these could be very ignorant observations, so I’d be really interested to hear about anyone else’s experiences in other countries.


Just a couple of examples of the work that is going on to improve global internet access.

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