Bridging the Global Digital Divide

Bridging the Global Digital Divide

Jeffrey James

Employing a rigorous analytical framework, the author bases his analysis on the concept of international technological dualism. He argues that one possible solution to the problem is the availability of affordable technologies, such as low-cost computers, which are specifically designed for the income levels and socio-economic conditions of developing countries. He also emphasises that the most important aim of any policy measure should be to provide universal access to information technologies, rather than individual ownership. Depending on whether or not this divide can be bridged will, to a large degree, determine whether developing countries are able to attain higher levels of productivity, prosperity and global integration.

Introduction

Jeffrey James

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, innovation and technology, technology and ict

Extract

Few subjects currently attract more attention in international policy-making circles than the global digital divide, that is the starkly differential extent to which various forms of information technology (IT) (especially the Internet) are benefiting rich as opposed to poor countries.1 Although it is often treated as an entirely new and unique aspect of the relationship between rich and poor countries, we are of the opinion that the digital divide should be seen rather as a continuation of the same underlying forces that create what Singer has referred to as ‘international technological dualism’ (Singer, 1970). By this he meant, first and foremost, a heavy concentration of global research and development (R&D) in the rich countries, a percentage that even now amounts to some 96 per cent of the world total.2 Even so acute a degree of inequality would, however, be unimportant if, as he put it at the time: the direction of advance, the scientific and technological priorities and the methods of solving scientific and technological problems, were independent of where the work is carried on. This, however, is patently not the case, the [then] 98 per cent of research and development expenditures in the richer countries are spent on solving the problems which concern the richer countries, according to their own priorities, and on solving these problems by the methods and approaches appropriate to the factor endowment of the richer countries. In both respects - selection of problems and methods of solving them - the interests of the poorer...