Friday, November 2, 2007

The Canyon: Engineering Problems with the Bridge

The last post was about my viewpoint on the "digital divide." I passionately feel that a bridge - if not a reversal of this issue is needed. But, like the Grand Canyon, it is an overwhelming, if not impossible task. Lucky for us this stream hasn't been flowing for hundreds of thousands of years like the Colorado...nor is it a force of nature. So with a little care, I think it is an achievable goal - as do many. But in the meantime, I fear this crisis is being overlooked and underestimated. Like a huge hurricane brewing that everyone is calling a thunderstorm.

The first problem with this divide is a huge increase in poverty. Africa is one of the most impoverished continents, suffering largely from overpopulation and lack of jobs. Why? Their technology has not kept up which leaves them limited ways to participate in the business world. Most of these forms of income are based on natural resources, which of course are depleting and many Africans are dying for these resources out of need for money to feed their families. The introduction of technology would create many ways for these people to participate in worldwide business and therefore be able to support themselves again. But how will it be monetarily supported?

Which leads to my second fear - apathy. I think that as the world has become increasingly capitalistic, there is little attention or care given in helping those less fortunate get back on their feet. Fewer people seem interested in donating money, time and knowledge into these situations to help the overall good of society. Unfortunately, I fear they view this more as throwing money away than a true investment in the improvement of humanity and the world.

But even if I don't wane so cynical, the introduction of the actual equipment still poses a problem of education. Whilst computers and the Internet have been around in the United States and most of the "westernised" societies for almost two decades now, it has proven difficult to get people up to speed. The challenge of getting over a third of the world equally educated, familiar, and comfortable with technology is a huge challenge.

And even if we did, the fourth fear - language barriers - poses an incredibly daunting challenge. How do you share your knowledge with an African who only speaks Swahili, or an Indian who only speaks Hindi? While Google and other pages offer translation tools, this is limited - and since it is computer generated, many of the translations are incorrect in the final product. Furthermore, technology only does so much. There are still people behind the message with which they will need to interact at some point. Not being able to speak with them is a huge concern - and this also adds an entirely new arm of eduation that would need to be implemented. The cost, and time investment to get these educational vices in place are enormous. And by the time these countries have gotten up to speed with today's standards, today's standards will seem archaic in the countries in which technology is so quickly progressing.

Finally, the often forgetten part - is logistics. The Internet requires equipment, and people to run it. Not to mention electricity - or some other comparable form of power. How can these societies, many of whom do not have such sources of power in all homes, introduce new technology which so drastically needs it?

All of these topics are overwhelming to me. I do not know all the answers...but I will share some solutions I think are useful shortly. I do think, that time is of the essence. The longer the problem is left to stew, the greater it becomes - we may be ignoring it, but the surging stream of technology growth is continually eroding away the footholds and increasing the divide day by day.

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