|by Raymond M. Kristiansen|
|Published on: Oct 29, 2003|
|It is a well-known fact that the information society has a huge potential as a large democratic tool for youth from all over the world. If you have access to a computer with an internet connection, you are far more able to not only gather information, but also discuss it with other of similar interests, and express yourself in an array of different manners.
But in order to have a truly global information society, we must cross the so-called “digital divide”. By that I mean the mechanisms which ensure that people of less developed countries or regions have a much harder time accessing these tools.
In this essay, I will be focusing on two points. First there is the challenge of finding practical solutions for narrowing the digital divide. More specifically, what can we as youths of developed and developing countries do? Then there is the question of the role of online youth organizations such as our own TakingITGlobal.org (TIG). How can TIG develop to become a pro-active participant in the global information society, and how can TIG in very concrete manners help disadvantaged youths from countries with little or no internet connections participate in the global information society.
The digital divide is a massive problem of innumerable perspectives and nuances. As single youth members in this world, it seems like there really isn’t much we can do, besides perhaps donating money to some NGO working on these issues. But in reality there is a lot we can do already. The challenge is to help those who are less able to connect to websites, use search-engines or download heavy files. One solution, which has been tried by several NGO’s in development projects in the South, is that individuals in the North with broadband connection download relevant information and burn it on CD’s, then sending these by post to the connections in the South.
Another solution is that one develops search engines and websites that is more clearly targeted towards users with low bandwidth. I think these two solutions are highly feasible, even though it does not stop us from having the goal of equal access to the information highway for all in terms of infrastructure and broadband. But that is an aspect which will require a considerable amount of investment, and is a more long-term goal. The challenge here is to think practical, and we must help our fellow youths now.
What can be TakingITGlobal’s position in helping bridge the digital divide? Well, firstly there is a great need to develop further services that are targeted more directly at those less fortunate in the information society. That is firstly to give the option of sending updates, zine content or discussion threads by e-mail or sms to the user. This idea has been launched already in the forums, and it is something I support. Secondly, TIG members can create a network of fortunate youths who not only have a broadband connection and a CD burner, but also the interest in sending off CD’s to fellow TIG members in the south, and to follow up these information needs. We must however take into account the copyright issue in this case. Often content is provided online only as on-screen information and is not allowed to be downloaded and burnt onto a CD-rom. This is something we must find a legal way around, but first and foremost we must create this network. We have quite a lot of members from Sub-Saharan Africa who can connect to the internet, but who are facing massive costs associated with the per-minute charge of internet access. We must find a way to support these members which is according to their interests and wishes, and where it is clear to all that these are common goals, common interests of ours.
My conclusion here is that we need to have a much more hands-on approach to the information society and the digital divide. We cannot allow ourselves to only participate in theoretical debates on the virtues of this information society or the challenge of the digital divide. We need real action, real inspiration and real connection between youths from all over the world.