Technology often feels like it has inundated our lives, yet about 60 percent of the world’s population does not have Internet access. Technological progress has jumpstarted globalization and fed growing economies, but the International Monetary Fund shows that it has also created a technology gap that is the driving force in inequality. The voices of impoverished people are almost completely lost in today’s technological world.
China made headlines in the U.S. recently for their technological censorship. The Communist Party holds congress October 18 and as the date has been approaching, the Chinese government has interfered with communications they cannot directly monitor. It is easy to criticize such blatant corruption – the story even made New York Times headlines – but there is comparably little concern over the fact that poverty creates a societal censorship more crippling than any government.
The freedom to communicate has been autonomous for most of history, only hindered by disability or geographical and cultural divide. Technology gave the world a solution to these roadblocks and seemed to “shrink” the world. But now it has been marketized so much that a single shift in Apple’s quarterly earnings will shift the entire Dow Jones Industrial Average. Technology is commercialized and treated as a privilege rather than a right, taking the right to communicate along with it.
The U.N.‘s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development names the technology gap as one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating poverty. The Mexico delegate expressed that bridging that gap means “embracing the information society which was plural, transparent, decentralized, democratic and egalitarian.”
China’s censorship is only one symptom and one example of a government working against that vision. The country ranks 79th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which is even a relatively liberal position compared to some of the world’s poorest countries. The majority of the most corrupt countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa and northward into the Middle East. Business Insider’s list of the poorest countries, based on International Monetary Fund data, shows the same pattern and attributes the correlation to “authoritarian regimes where corruption is rampant.”
Two of the best examples of this are the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. Ranked the two poorest countries in the world, they are also both on the list of the 20 most corrupt countries. Furthermore, in the Central African Republic, just over four percent of the population are Internet users, whereas just under four percent are Internet users in the Congo. About 10 years ago, that number was less than one percent in both countries. The technology gap means that people who need the world’s help the most unfortunately do not have the resources to ask for it.
The U.S. passed a piece of legislation this year called The Digital Gap Act, which was implemented in September and hopes to bring first time Internet access to 1.5 billion people by 2020. This is just one step – though an important one – in the direction toward a global society that is representative of the entire population, and a step toward helping eradicate poverty by ensuring those who need it most have access to helpful technology.
– Brooke Clayton