In my home of Doswell, Virginia (most known for being the home of the amusement park, Kings Dominion), I do not have reliable Internet access. I have means of connecting to the Internet, as I have a smart phone and I have a computer, but this ability to connect does not mean my service is reliable. Throughout high school, and during my visits home, I am forced to make the 15 minute drive to the town of Ashland where I use the local university library or take refuge in a Starbuck’s to make use of the free Wi-Fi services. While a 15-minute drive is no huge obstacle and I am fortunate to be able to make this commute, the fact that my home remains so isolated in such a rapidly connecting world has always perplexed myself and my older brother, though has done little to trouble my parents. In contrast to this poor connection was the (mostly) reliable and quick service I had in my apartment in Nairobi.
To many, in both Kenya and the US, this was a startling revelation. However, it echoes the findings of the paper, “Falling through the Net”, which outlines the “digital divide” between rural and urban America. While this particular paper explored the topic in the United States, the “digital divide” is not solely an American construct and can be seen all the way from the bottom at the local level up to the top at the international level. It is an evolving term that corresponds to changes in access to and usage of technologies. To clarify, the digital divide once could have applied to the global population who did or didn’t have mobile phones but now as the majority of the world has these devices, it has adapted to whether or not these devices are smart phones with web-browsing capabilities.
Another report with a more international focus was the “Many voices, One world” paper by the MacBride Commission, published in 1980. This paper, though dated now, established many of the concerns associated with ICTs that still remain today, although mostly in newer forms of technology. The two reports mentioned here laid the groundwork for discussion on ICTs and are largely to thank for the forums and societies on Internet governance today that are still working towards closing the gaps created by ICTs. Since it is hard to know what directions ICTs will go in, it is hard to know for sure what digital divide(s) will look like in the future. However, it is important to continue to have both reflective and proactive discussions on ICTs so that the digital divide is less and less a cause for concern in development practice.