About the Digital Divide and the Digital Dilemma

What do we mean by an Information Society? We mean one in which human capacity is expanded, built up, nourished, and liberated, by giving people access to the tools and technologies they need, with the education and training to use them effectively.

– Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, November 16, 2005

Committing all nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty

Back in the year 2000 the United Nations had formulated the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which all 193 United Nations member states agreed to. In order to achieve these goals by the year 2015 the rich and poor countries planed to form a global partnership for development.

International organisations like the World Bank have given emphasise to the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a powerful engine to drive economic development. On the other hand, not to develop ICT would mean to stay disconnected from the emerging global information network and the global market. This Digital Gap would would inevitable mean to remain in the current state of poverty and at the end lead to a Digital Divide and therefore endanger the entire project of global development in partnership.

Digital globalisation as an opportunity for economic development

End of 2001, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to discuss on information society opportunities and challenges.

In 2003 a first WSIS summit was held at Geneva and a Declaration of Principles adopted for achieving an information society accessible to all and based on shared knowledge. A Plan of Action was decided, setting out the goal of bringing 50 percent of the world’s population online by 2015.

A second WSIS summit lead to the Tunis Commitment 2005, acknowledging that an “ICT revolution” is taking place and making all UN member states “reaffirm” their “desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society“.

In review the United Nations have been just bystanders in that process1, while multinational corporations were executing their own revolutionary ICT-agenda: By transforming the traditional idea of computation to “always on, always connected” smart-computing under permanent supervision, the prerogative to commercially exploit computer-usage has been codified into ICT.

A new Digital Divide will develop along the ability to pay for digital “services”. Will the only tangible outcome of the “Millennium Development Goals” in “global partnership for development” consist in low-cost smart-phones and substandard internet access for “affordable” micro-use?

Taking chances by sweeping changes?

Interestingly already at this summit besides the Digital Divide another concern was articulated: the Digital Dilemma. It was the Holy See of the Catholic Church warning that technology might sweep away too traditional values and the distinctiveness of cultures if that revolution is executed without respecting the moral order and the common good.

At the end the philosophical question remains about how much a voluntary transfer of resources and knowledge should be free from self-interest of the donor? Maybe Pope Benedict XVI found a good definition in November 2009 stating with regard to the “continuing disparity in the level of development“, that “the concept of cooperation […] must be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity2” instead “to promote the interests of those who make resources available“, because “every country has the right to define its own economic model, taking steps to secure its freedom to choose its own objectives.”

Click here to evaluate whether the Tunis Commitment is in accordance with the Pope’s guideline.

1. Other UN-institutions are also made to submit to interest of Big Business: When in 2003 the World Health Organisation called for a worldwide policy against junk food, the U.S. Government threatened to withhold its UN-funding. The money-trail lead to the conclusion, that US sugar barons ‘block global war on obesity’
2. Latin: subsidiarius, from subsidium reserve troops; the principle that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.

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