The fast pace growth of information and communications technology has allowed the world to advance at rapid speeds, yet at the same time, those left behind are quickly falling behind and suffering the consequences. This phenomenon is known today as the “digital divide” and it was first internationally recognized when the Mainland Report was published in 1985. The report highlights the huge imbalance in telephone access between the developed and developing countries and makes it clear that this imbalance is intolerable for the healthy sustainable development of our world (Mainland Report). This telephone imbalance has expanded to include cellphones, computers, the Internet, etc., and with the increasing dependence on these technologies, it is crucial that this imbalance be corrected.
As we analyze the imbalance, whether at an international level or here in the U.S., certain areas and groups of the population are always disproportionately affected. Patterns show that rural areas, communities of minority groups and areas with low economic activity suffer from lack of access to ICTs that other parts enjoy and depend on to thrive (Falling Through The Net). This lack of access further isolates these communities and inhibits people from making the proper decisions because they have inadequate information with which to make their choices (Class Lecture). With the example of the more developed countries, it is easier for those trying to catch up to follow the leapfrog model of development, yet this does not mean that it is in anyway easier to help those left behind catch up. Cutting down the access gap and improving the penetration of ICTs has been a prominent issue in development as of recently and certain international agreements have been made to help work towards this goal. Out of the World Summit on Information Society, convened by the UN, came the Geneva Declaration of Principles that declares a commitment to building a more people-centered, inclusive and development oriented information society where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals and communities to achieve their full potential and promote their sustainable development and quality of life (Geneva Declaration of Principles). Many steps have been taken by the international community to not only improve access but also to harness that access and use it to promote sustainable development goals. Linking these two is crucial for the future.
However, there are many challenges that impede the proper implementation of this plan. One of the clearest obstacles is access to electricity because without proper access to this amenity first, it is impossible to provide access to ICTs. However, there are other challenges that are less obvious and more intricate. One of these deals with indigenous communities and ICTs. While on the one hand it is important to include these communities into the global net, on the other hand, it is important to respect their traditions and land and not forcefully make them change in order to fit into our modern world. This is a highly sensitive and debated topic that must be addressed as we work towards creating a highly connected technological world.