7. Tech “7-11s”
As we have seen over the past few columns, technology can definitely help in bridging the digital divide through the right mix of computing and communications. Technology needs to become, to borrow a phrase from IBM, “the next utility” for the people and enterprises on the wrong side of the digital divide. The distribution point for this tech utility needs to be in every neighbourhood and industrial cluster.
Think of these hubs as the equivalent of tech “7-11s”. The 7-11 (which stands for 7 am to 11 pm – the store timings) chain of stores dot many of Asia’s cities. Most of what families need for their daily consumption is available at these stores. They are a part of life.
The tech “7-11s” can serve multiple purposes. They can showcase the technologies which can make a difference for the masses, serve as retail outlets, help in installation and training for customers, host a digital hubs for Wi-Fi data networks, provide an Internet access centre, serve as a physical world meeting place for entrepreneurs in the neighbourhood to share and learn, and perhaps even a “MicroBank” (in the context of offering MicroFinance).
Says R Ramaraj, CEO of Satyam Infoway:
Digital technology is not a luxury item. It is not necessarily a “Rolls Royce” solution. It is the key that opens the door to the knowledge economy. It gives even the under-privileged an opportunity to participate in the new economy of the 21st century.
“Bridging the digital divide” does not mean guaranteeing equal access to every new technological development. At the same time, it means more than just bringing Internet connectivity to a few selected “model” villages and classrooms. The global effort underway among governments, businesses, and NGOs to bridge the digital divide isn’t about distributing sophisticated technology to the disadvantaged; it’s about expanding access to information and communication technologies to promote social and economic development.
To bridge the digital divide with effective, practical applications of technology, three elements are crucial: entrepreneurship, government policy encouraging and supporting equity, and ground level programs with local community participation.
As one of the farmers in Warna (Maharashtra) says, if we do the groundwork today, our grandchildren will not able to imagine life without tools such as computers and the Internet. We should probably think of it as our investment in their future.
Solutions that bridge the world’s digital divides (across countries, their people and companies) offer the next set of opportunities. An amazing array of technologies lie in front of us. The question is how can we put them together to create “digital delight” across the “digital divide” and thus reap the “digital dividend.”