This article provides information about the Increasing Importance of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in Knowledge Society Disparities between and within Countries:
In the so-called knowledge societies more than 850 million people in the developing countries are excluded from the wide range of information and knowledge. The poor in the developing countries remain much isolated economically, socially and culturally from the burgeoning information and progress in arts, science and technology. Little is known about the barriers to evolution and growth of knowledge societies in developing countries in spite of advancements in the use of information and communication technologies.
Real disparities exist in access to and use of information and communications technology (ICT) between countries (the “international digital divide”) and between groups within countries (the “domestic digital divide”). There is a wealth of real and anecdotal evidence to support this statement. The volume of statistics is impressive and persuasive: “In the entire continent of Africa, there are a mere 14 million phone lines – fewer than in either Manhattan or Tokyo.
Wealthy nations comprise some 16 per cent of the world’s population, but command 90 per cent of Internet host computers. Of all the Internet users worldwide, 60 per cent reside in North America, where a mere five per cent of the world’s population reside”(Nkrumah). “One in two Americans is online, compared with only one in 250 Africans. In Bangladesh a computer costs the equivalent of eight years average pay”. Underlying trends are often lost in the heated debate over how to define the problem, but a pattern emerges from within the statistics.
i. All countries, even the poorest, are increasing their access to and use of ICT. But the “information haves” countries are increasing their access and use at such an exponential rate that, in effect, the divide between countries is actually growing.
ii. Within countries, all groups, even the poorest, are also increasing their access to and use of ICT. But within countries the “information haves” are increasing access and use at such an exponential rate that, in effect, the division within countries is also actually growing.
This basic pattern of disparities is repeated again and again with other technologies such as telephones. There is a wide disparity in access to phones. In 1998 there were 146 telephones per thousand people in the world, but only 19 per 1000 in South Asia, and only 3 per 1000 in countries such as Uganda. Mobile Phones show a similar disparity, for every 1000 people in the world, 55 had mobile phones in 1998, but only 1 person in 1000 had a mobile phone in either South Asia or Uganda.
Two basic disparities exist in the affordability of ICTs – in the basic cost of the technology, and in the cost of the technology relative to per capita income. Access costs are almost four times as expensive in the Czech Republic and Hungary as in the United States (during off hours; peak prices are even higher). Outside a few select countries, only wealthy individuals and sections of the middle class can currently afford access. The majority of people in developing countries cannot afford the technology, even when it is available, so usage remains low: “Poverty remains the greatest barrier to Internet growth in Africa. The monthly connection cost for the Internet in Africa exceeds the monthly income of a significant portion of the population.
Now if we turn to domestic scene we can see that ICTs however, function in societal context. Most reports on disparities in ICT access within countries look at the problem according to socio-economic criteria such as race, income, geographical location, education age, gender etc. if we take the case of India we can see that globalisation and information age have led to a diverse social formation in India within and between societies.
A large section has remained outsiders from within, being subordinated and excluded from the dominant processes of globalisation and knowledge economy. Indian societal context is ridden with unequal distribution of resources, and divides based on caste, class, ethnicity and gender. Illiteracy, low income and spatial isolation widely contribute to sustain the pre-existing social exclusion.
Along the time, there are also the dimensions of digital divides of various sorts. These divides are between rich and poor, between urban and rural, between English speaking upwardly mobile literati and non- English speaking rest of people. This digital divides are again accentuated with the varied extent of access of electricity, telephone and computer in different states in India. In the globalised world while these has emerged areas of inclusion; there also exists a vast section as excluded from within.
While most of the urban areas have been connected with the forces of globalisation and ICT networks and a distinctive category of elites have emerged therein as the ICT driven ‘digiterati’ within the same urban set a large segment of the work force working mostly in the unorganised sector and surviving in a sub-human existence has remained excluded from the ICTs access.
The rural areas on the other hand while the rudimentary forms of connectivity have only touched the upwardly mobile gentry; the agricultural labourers, tenants, poor peasants and the artisans who represent the vast section of the marginalised people of India has so remained excluded. Their educational and economic status often bars them from getting integrated with the information age.