Perhaps the digital divide is a protector of culture

The digital divide recognizes that wealthier nations have information and communication technologies as an intimate part of their day. Most conversations on the digital divide probably have to do with how we can close it in order to increase technology use where it isn’t as widespread, then to promote development. But I want to argue that we still keep it a bit wide… for the sake of culture. Recognizing and appreciating culture as part of a development project is key, but often brushed over. Sometimes with grand intentions, wealthier people and nations alike march on with blinders to what the people in need desire and they implement what has made their own lives more successful. I am confident that there are ways to create access to technologies along the lines of existing culture. But the digital divide serves as a nice reminder of the vast differences in culture that stem from the economic level of a country.

Tim Unwin, author of Information and Communication Technology for Development, notes that information technologies promote competition. In turn, competition promotes the digital divide. Projects to incorporate new technologies into developing countries create a weird circle of advancing the digital divide, although the intention was to reduce it. Yes, it is noted that these technologies contribute to economic growth… but one of the main things we learned in the introduction class to international development was that economic development is necessary but not sufficient for poverty reduction. As well, Unwin points out “many well intention projects have failed.”

The digital divide is an unintentional way to not allow our ideas of the goodness of technology to impede on a culture in which the same technologies could be counterintuitive to their way of life. I am seeing the digital divide as a convenient halting point for ICT4D professionals to remember culture, but I still wonder… is it even possible to implement certain technologies into developing countries without impeding too heavily on their cultural customs?


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