Finding a better way to bridge the digital divide
Getting the world set up online is fine. Next: Delivering content that serves the world.
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"Jordan doesn't have resources. We don't have oil; we don't have any major mineral resources; the only thing we have is education," says Khamis Omar, dean of the IT department at the Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman, explaining the success of the IT industry in Jordan.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite these successes, Jordan is still on the far side of the perceived chasm. Only 54 percent of Jordanian homes have a personal computer and about 30 percent of people use the Internet. Of those who don't have computers, about half said they couldn't afford them while 40 percent said they didn't need them, according to a report by the Department of Statistics released to The Jordan Times last month.
In some regards, it may take decades for the Internet, like other technological revolutions, to take firm root outside its place of origin, says Steven Low, a computer science professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "It takes time not only for the technology to mature, but also for [a different] society to learn how to use it and then adapt how you live or how you work to make the most use of it," he says. "That process has been going on in the developed world for the last several decades in terms of IT ... but it's only starting for the developing world."
In the meantime, Robert Fadel of the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child says one of the most important things is to continue making technology available to more people so they can find ways to make it applicable to their lives. In the past two years, OLPC has helped distribute 1.5 million laptops to children in 35 countries.
"Children, with the support of their community and their parents and teachers, will find it all out, they will discover it. We can help them out by giving them the freedom and the access to use such tools," says Mr. Fadel. He adds that worrying that people might not get the full benefit of the Internet because they don't know how to use it, is like worrying that people may not benefit from a library if no one explains how to use it.
Still, Ms. Hargittai says that, for real Internet equality, it will likely take more than simply putting the tools in people's hands. Organizations working to bridge the divide must "devote resources to offering support, and potentially having a center where people can go for support, offering informal classes or instruction for the community," she says. She adds that any classes would need to effectively target the necessary audience, as many people may not know how much more they have to learn.
This is the first in a two-part series on making the Web more worldwide. The second article is available here.