It’s a matter of perspective if you ask me. This question arose two weeks ago at the conference I blogged about earlier. The moderator was asking us paneliststo define the term “Digital Divide.” Of the three of us, the NGO representative did provide a definition, but the two private industry folks (me and my colleague from Microsoft) instead chose to describe our perspectives in terms of “Digital Inclusion.”Not long ago, when Intel switched from “Divide” to “Inclusion,” I couldn’t help roll my eyes. But, now I see the light…. Back then I thought the difference was a matter of semantics, or even worse, spin. “Inclusion” seemed to put a pretty face on what clearly was a “Divide” to me….back then. But having worked on the issue in various places for a few years now, and seeing the success some of these programs are having – not just in terms of giving people access but also empowering them in a number of other ways – it is clear to me that the issue really is one of opportunity, not being disenfranchised. By opportunity, I mean opportunity for everyone. Intel, of course, sees tremendous opportunity looking at Digital Inclusion as a way to empower more people – through ICT-enabled education, healthcare, government and communities – as well as selling more technology. This is one reason for my program as well as the much larger initiatives underway worldwide such as Intel’s World Ahead program. Individuals positioned to take advantage of these opportunities (those on the “wrong” side of the “Digital Divide”) benefit from access to technology, the internet and information on the internet, as well as increased educational, career and even entrepreneurial opportunities that, before now, really weren’t possible. Now one could say it doesn’t matter how you look at it, there are millions on the wrong side of the gap and no question, that gap should close. But how you look at it makes a difference too: one perspective focuses on the problem, the other the solution. In The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse the author provides statistical data supporting the fact that U.S. citizens are basically pessimists, although he doesn’t use those words. And that perspective on life leaves modern-day U.S. citizens feeling worse than any other population in history despite the fact that their lives have been getting better and better. Using the term “Digital Divide” accords with this. It is a way of pessimistically looking at a phenomena that has triggered actions bringing huge opportunities to more and more people. It is true, the actions began as a result of attention being called to the problem. But it seems to me calling attention to opportunity runs less risk of polarizing an issue than focusing on the problem – among other benefits. Perhaps you disagree… I for one am energized by the optimistic flavor “Digital Inclusion” intones. It rings with opportunity, that people are going to be better off when included, that we have the ability to effect the inclusion and that the world is an abundant place, with enough for everyone. Whether you see that or not is a matter of perspective.
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