Have you ever felt that pang of anguish while visiting a friend’s house when he proudly displays his new 80 inch OLED smart TV connected to his 1 Gbps connection, which is in turn connected to his new iPad projecting Apple TV on screen, as he goes on lecturing about the benefits of the latest tech? You look around his room to see the latest gadgets all there; making it impossible to keep the “green eyed monster” at bay, while at the same time you fumble to your pockets to hide your 3 year old smartphone. If you have experienced something similar to this situation then you have had a small taste of the “Digital Divide”.
The reality of the Digital Divide (DD) of course is much larger, access to the highest bandwidth and latest tech can make huge differences in people’s lives. The DD can be between men and women, rich and poor, different ethnicities, even between the developed and developing countries. The advantages that the latest tech offers simply does not percolate everywhere at the same time, creating disparities that can leave behind large segments of humankind in a kind of “digital dark age”.
Now you may kind of wonder why does this Digital Divide happen? Well there are quite a few reasons this happens let take a brief look at few of the major ones (for convenience let’s use country comparisons as these are the areas where the largest differences occur).
If you remember the example above, the friend who has bought all these gadgets seems to clearly have the cash to purchase them maybe he inherited millions or made it big, it doesn’t matter, he has enough money to get the latest stuff. This situation unfolds on a much grander scale when we compare countries. If we compare developed countries to developing countries we find great disparity between them when we start using the right metrics like internet penetration, cost per mbps, cost of capital for buying ICT stuff like computers, smartphones etc. just to mention a few, a clear yawning gap appears. So economics does play a big role in the digital divide and the unfortunate truth is that it is in the developing world, where getting the latest tech can make the most difference in alleviating poverty and creating empowerment.
The next thing is access to technical knowledge, research and development this is an area where developed countries have the complete edge. If you look at the number of patents filed in developed countries vs developing countries it will give you a good idea where the next tech is going to come from. For example if a country lacks software designers it will have to import software or buy licenses for it or if they do not have backward linking companies that produce hardware for the ICT then they will have to rely on imports again this can quickly add up to a significant portion of their foreign exchange being drained or funds being curtailed from development projects. Developing countries do not always have the infrastructure, funds, and know how (brain drain happens the most from developing countries) to cultivate and deploy the latest tech leaving large swathes of their population deprived.
Infrastructure or lack thereof can hamper the ICT projects. If a country suffers from chronic power shortages or if a significant portion of the population lives in remote areas where there is no power grid then the power to use devices becomes more complicated and expensive. Similarly if a country cannot deploy fast fiber optic or cellular communications then information cannot disseminate properly rendering ICT projects inefficient.
So what can we do?
Simply placed we can start using the internet of things to start overcoming traditional barriers to ICT deployment. The Internet of things will open up unique ways for countries and people to enable devices to enhance their lives. As the Internet of Things comes to be and matures we can hope that companies will be able to achieve economies of scales that were previously unheard of bringing down production costs. Also the IoT can enable people to design develop and customize products for their own needs. Imagine what an ingenious student in a developing country could do with a 3D printer. IoT might enable decentralized manufacturing of customized products suitable for each countries situation. IoT enabled devices will increase efficiencies in everything that they are used in creating net saving for everyone and opening up more resources for other uses.
While we can perhaps argue about the risks of IoT deployments and maybe they will create their own set of issues as the popularity of IoT enabled devices grows, but this always happens whenever new disruptive technologies come about, leaving room for the next generation of thinker and doers to innovate something new, to solve those problems.
Getting back to our story, now maybe you have just barely managed to control the Green Eyed Monster of jealousy or maybe you have allowed it to take control and are contemplating whether selling a kidney will get you the latest must have gadgets. Then know this the Internet of things is coming and just maybe with it, the vast deprived humanity might get some parity in their lives.
Stay with us more about the IoT is on the way!!!