With the constant buzz about closing the digital divide, is there really anything left to say? I didn’t think so until I met Prof. Sheizaf Rafaeli.Prof. Rafaeli is head of the Center for the Study of the Information Society at Haifa University and head of the School of Management at Haifa University. He addressed the Fifth Annual Sderot Conference for Social and Economic Policy (where Intel Israel led the discussion on the subject of the digital divide) and opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the divide. You could say his comments made me stop staring across the top of the divide and got me looking deep down into it. The importance of the digital divide issue really hit home when Prof. Rafaeli pointed out that even if a country is rich enough to give every single one of its citizens a PC, it doesn’t guarantee that the digital divide will automatically be closed. In fact, according to Prof. Rafaeli, even with total PC coverage, the emerging differences in ability to wade through and process content, and the disparities in the skills and capabilities developed through using computers will only get bigger. So, instead of focusing on computer “haves” and “have nots”, we’ve got to change our focus to closing the expected future gaps between the “can users” and the “can’t users”. While for every person who has surfed the Net, there are three or four others in third world countries who have never heard of it. And although a digital gap does exist between rich and poor as well as between countries, it should not be inferred that the forecasted digital divide will impact only third world countries. It needs to be bridged in mature countries. Prof. Refaeli’s words speak for themselves: “The reward of a society that has accepted technology with open arms but does not ensure its broader distribution will be to lose it.” In response to that, and powered by the philosophy that social responsibility is an inseparable part of business responsibility, Intel Israel drives national dialogues on the digital divide and introduces technological-social programs that involve a broad range of participants from government officials to teachers to children. Thoses programs are part of Intel global Educaion initiative and includs projects such as ‘Intel computer clubhouse’ that aim to provides children with technology-enriched centers in which to learn new skills and express themselves through the use of technology. Other program is the ‘Intel® Learn’ Program that helps children develop problem solving, collaboration and technology skills and apply those skills to solve real-world problems. So in response to my original musings about whether there is anything left to say on the digital divide, from where I sit, it seems that the answer can only be yes and no. Yes, because we can continue to say all we like; and no, because the real change towards bridging the digital divide will come about NOT by what we SAY, but by what we DO. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this: what do you think it’s going to take to close the divide?
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