Digital Inclusion, Digital Divide…is there a difference?

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.

8 thoughts on “Digital Inclusion, Digital Divide…is there a difference?

  1. Well, it really depends from what side you’re looking at the glass half-filled with water.
    The trend of personal devices (not computers already) is in favor of cell phones twice as much. Just make the cell phones working as fully-functional computers – and in this case only the full localization for all languages is a necessary requirement.

  2. Yes, I wonder though if looking at it half-empty as a problem creates unnecessary friction to closing the gap. Polarizing the issue is one by-product of seeing the gap as problem. The premise of “Digital Divide” implies something is not right, people are being left out and this is wrong. Some entities or even people could react defensively (whatever the reason) to this message. Another potential point of friction that comes with “Digital Divide” – and allow me to go metaphysical here – is the idea that resistance generates persistence. There’s something to be said for approaching the issue in a judo-like way, going with the opposing force’s momentum instead of stopping it in its tracks. “Digital Inclusion” does this by implying opportunity for all. It’s not saying something is wrong here. It’s saying “Let’s get these people connected and stimulate their economic, educational, personal and political lives and we’ll benefit too!” It doesn’t put anyone on defense (does it?) and offers the issue to private industry as a market to be had – resulting in gap closure provided industry is smart enough to devise low-enough-cost ways of meeting that market.
    On the cell phone issue: you’re right of course. This came up in the conference I attended couple weeks back. For everyday, political, community gathering, and pesonal communication purposes, cell phones ARE the way to go. However, when it comes to driving business notebooks still hold sway. Even if you’re creating a business 2.0, user generated solution that will play out over cell phones, you still need to know how to code, share development ideas between business units, and other business tasks. These busienss tasks can’t be done easily over cell phones or other personal devices….not yet anyway….
    What am I missing here?

  3. Right, cell phones are made only for voice communications initially by its definition – and SMS-texting for most is a hard task that needs a lot of patience and time. Really, the system of a few corresponding alphabetical characters and a number invented for easy remembering and dialing one ‘phone number’ is definitely not intended for typing. Moreover, the attempt to fit a QWERTY layout in a palm-sized device is also not intended for typing though is decent for texting several SMS messages. In this case, the ergonomics is playing a key role because the QWERTY layout is invented for effective touch typing by two hands on a typewriter (now replaced by a notebook). Recently launched iPhone also uses this type of paradigma but with some different meaning – typing (tapping) on a touch-sensitive display. Note it’s one-hand typing and if only the keys were one and half bigger (as of Nokia e61) it would be pretty decent but Nokia e61 is 70 mm wide and people used to cell phones that are about 45-50 mm wide. The optimal width is defined by MotoRAZR standard size – 53 mm (note that new Palm Centro is 53.6 mm wide not as a Treo with 58 mm) – these details show a very important thing – there are only two optimal by ergonomics sizes for keyboards – a regular computer keyboard and MotoRAZR’s keypad as a standard for cell phones. It’s like a quantum leap – 53 mm and full-size keyboard. Think of just two new Palm’s developments – Cenro and Foleo. Even a new SonyEricsson W960 (109 x 55 x 16 mm) is considered by some users on the forums as bulky in comparison with a SonyEricsson W950 (106 x 54 x 15 mm). And compare MotoRAZR V3 and RAZR2 – with the same width but having a little more height (98 and 103 mm) and with a bigger external display – these are not just numbers this a style of life. And less width maybe more stylish (like MotoKRZR) but technically worthless as a base for a efficient keyboard for ‘one-hand’ typing. And more width is less efficient for the comfort of one-hand navigation. The idea for creating a cell PC is that the second touch-sensitive display instead of the keypad of a MotoRAZR form factor is used not only as a keyboard but also for working with menus and toolbars the same way as in a standard API in conjunction with a ‘separate’ document window of the main display. The same as for notebook or desktop PC. This enables a new standard platform for ‘Mobile Web’ development – and, technically, overall screen area of two displays is 1.5 bigger than iPhone’s display has. The Cell PC is a way new functionality for working with information while the form factor is the same as of a cell phone – the most successful phone – Motorola RAZR. That’s why it’s a cell PC – remember of that ‘quantum leap’. And this Mobile Web would be available for everyone in any place without a need to take your workplace – a new slim notebook with a 45 nm Penryn processor and SSD – with you every time. Just for business trips including presentations.

  4. Author of The Project Paradox is dead on.
    You see, there are way to many choices.
    Think about this — why Linux will never succeed as desktop operating system?
    You have 3+ X servers, 10+ window managers, at least 100+ multimedia players, 30+ email clients, etc… none of them perfect. Instead of focusing on perfecting some of those, they keep forking until eventually all effort gets wasted because nobody sane would want to test say 100 multimedia players to find the one which works for him.
    We have similar problems with food. I love pineapple, the store has 10+ brands of pineapple, only one of them is good — Dole, the rest are all the same. So instead of focusing on having Dole and perhaps one cheaper brand they give you the impression of choice. What happens is that people chose between those cheaper 9 brands and Dole gets dumped because nobody buys it. So effectively they are killing the best product by giving you more choice.
    As for hardware, I really don’t need the camera in my cellphone, because the picture quality is awfull. Now they want to fix it by adding a DSP to enhance the image. Image is poor because of poor optics, too much compression and small sensor which equals a lot of noise. That is something no DSP algorithm could fix, especially not in realtime. Even if the picture gets improved, battery life will suffer dramatically because MIPS and MFLOPS don’t come for free. Why do I need camera again? It is a phone, used to communicate, not to take pictures and record videos. I also don’t need an mp3 player in a cellphone. I bought a separate one. It has better sound, it is smaller, has better autonomy and when I want to listen to the music I don’t want to answer the phone. Why merge all that functionlity into one device which will then have substandard performance for all those functions instead of having several devices which perform only one function but they do it flawlessly?
    Software is guilty of the same thing. Nero was a CD/DVD burning program. Now it is a swiss army knife and I still use only burning part. It is a complete waste of effort. Instead of improving the interface or focusing on ironing the bugs out, they introduced new ones by adding more code. Then you have dozens of applications which do the same thing. For example video converters. Pick one if you can I dare you. What, too many of them? No difference in quality, just in interface? This one has a red button, and the other one has yellow? Too bad, you wanted more choice. Quantity kills quality. By the way I heard there will soon be yet another new programming language. As if all those we already have aren’t enough. If programmers were able to program in English they still wouldn’t know how to solve certain problems. Problems are best solved by adjusting your point of view, not by changing tools.
    By having so many choices we make wrong ones all the time. It is simple, it is statistics at work. Have two choices and you have 50% chance to get it right. With hundred choices you have only 1% chance. It is blindingly obvious.
    Sorry for this long rant, I had to take this off my chest.

  5. Michael, you OBVIOUSLY know a lot more about this technology than I do. I Googled Cenro and Foleo but only found scant information and pictures for the latter. Anyway, I’ve learned my lesson about thinking too narrowly about all things, but technology in particular by watching the OLPC development from inside Intel (that’s another story). Nothing’s impossible. I look forward to saying “Wow, Michael was right!” when I see the cell PC debut. Three cheers for the quantum leap!
    Igor, I’m not sure I’d agree with you on the choice thing. I think there probably people out there who disagree with you about Dole Pineapple being the best tasting, and besides, I, for one would buy pineapple based on (at least) three criteria – taste, price and how it was grown and delivered – so choice I think is important. I do agree with you on substandards in product offerings and your opinion on cramming all those functions into one device. Like you, I bought a cell phone. It has an MP3 player in it, but I choose to run my music through a smaller, more functional, specialized device that is compatible with my Rhapsody music service (my phone is not). However, the phone does have a great interface that allows me to check traffic conditions and get directions. I find this functionality a great time saver. The very fact that we have both chosen to buy separate devices reflects the opportunity we have to choose. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, nor do I think the author is correct in saying too much choice is creating the anxiety. I think it’s something else, but that, again, is another story all together…

  6. Nothing has been holding Intel and Microsoft for this implementation for the year I’ve presented it to them. The same is for Apple when I had a discussion on AppleInsider’s forum about the next generation of computers last year. They chose to reincarnate their Newton when PDAs are just dusted on the shelves for years. The progress can be stopped – recently Steve Ballmer gave green light for Google to launch their mobile platform by not noticing them as rivals (among Apple and RIM). Steve Jobs confirmed it too by February plans to start developing of third-party applications. Your irony is useless here, you understand it by googling Cenro not Centro if you read my comment – follow the logic and the money of $500 billion infocom market. Intel and Microsoft are still having the opportunity. Google can be replaced by Live Search in a moment as AltaVista.

  7. ‘The progress can’t be stopped’, it’s like evolution following the real needs of people. Cars, planes, ‘personal computers’ which are always with you for communications and access to information. Cell PCs.

  8. As for the matter of the discussion – I found new details of Steve Ballmer’s keynote at CTIA 2007 on site – “He added that the phone will be the primary PC and internet device for a large part of the world, particularly in emerging markets”. So, as the cell PC strategy is right the same it’s clearly supported by Microsoft and Intel at least as a direction. The difference is that the cell PC as a product in a series of others – iPhone, Google PC etc. – isn’t a goal itself. The cell PC design is just a obvious math fact for working back from it in order to develop the new ‘Mobile Internet’ based on it becaase its design reflects ‘the only geometry’ of a device to get maximum screen area in a optimally compact device (except a rollable display but that’s a kind of electronic newspapers in the “Minority Report” movie which is now just like carrying a flat panel TV with you for $1000 along with power supply).
    The cell PC design just proves itself. No industrial designer can ignore the maximum efficiency of the design that has maximum screen area on the front panel of the device and that is the next level in the industrial for recent years (take Nokia Aeon concept actually with the same idea of two displays for an example) – the question was only in power efficiency of the solution. And Intel is solving the question with new ’45 nm’ (and ’32 nm’ in the future) processors as Silverthorne and Moorestown. So, it’s based only on Intel’s new processor technologies which are the only inspiring thing in my work on the efficient ‘human-computer interaction’ part of the project since Paul Otellini’s keynote at IDF Fall 2006 where he told about the plans of transition to 45 nm technology this year.
    So, everything comes together. The strategies of Intel and Microsoft. As Steve Ballmer said: “We can’t serve customers’ broad desire to bring together enterprise, desktop and online if we ignore mobile.” Really, it’s just not economic to have them separated anymore on a large scale. And this economy needs a mobile processor with a x86 architecture as Intel’s Silverthorne to port all the applications developed for more than 20 years and this requires a new HCI. UMPC and MID development is all about this but the fact is that there are only two form factors optimal for this task from HCI’s (maximum screen area) and consumers’ (familiar compact form factor) point of view – the cell PC and an original desktop/notebook PC platform. For example, Live Preview in Microsoft Office 2007 Fluent UI – two connected displays are just right for this, even better (there are no intersections between a selected object and a list of options). Thanks for the three cheers about the quantum leap.

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