The Great Digital Divide is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to access to technology and the internet. With the exponential growth and advancement of technology that allows us access to the internet, this disparity is only further enlarging.
What about those stories we hear of people trying to bridge this Digital Divide, like the good souls who are making $100 laptops that are given to communities in need? Here’s my gripe with them.
When we talk about the Digital Divide, we mean a lot of things– the rich and the poor, the developed and developing worlds, race, class, socioeconomic status, etc. For the folks who are acting globally, 1) I applaud you, but 2) act locally first.
There are so many implications associated with going abroad and handing out inexpensive computers to children in developing countries: 1) the visual story is more dramatic if there’s more contrast, so more often than not, the photos we see are of “White saviors” handing out computers (shoes, soccer balls, food, etc.) to darker skinned folks, 2) it can be interpreted as part of the whole historically colonialist system of oppression, and 3) it perpetuates social stratification by insinuating that having technology is better than not having it, despite the fact that the communities that we are introducing technology to may not have needed it and may not have the resources to support it (charging stations, wifi access, repairs, etc.). Also, where are these $100 computers now? The act of giving them away was such a big deal, and yet now, a few years later, I haven’t caught wind of how these computers are working out.
To think even more broadly about the US’s role in this whole spreading of technology, it’s so much more than giving out computers. We all know that access to technology and the internet can be great but also can incite rebellions once citizens have access to knowledge– what if spreading technology was the US’s way of planting seeds of rebellion in developing communities? I know that sounds awfully conspiracy-theorist of me, but it’s a possibility that can’t be overlooked, especially since history has proven this trend before.
I’ll conclude my post with a cliche call to action: Think globally, but act locally. The global community is in need, yes, and the idea of helping internationally can be sexy, but there are people down the street or within our own communities who need help, whose experiences we can better attempt to understand and whose lives are governed by rules and regulations that we understand– if real, effective, systemic change is to be made. Giving out $100 computers to international children in need, well good and dandy, only addresses the surface of the issue.