Even in Well-Off Nations, the Digital Divide Is Evident
Even in well-off nations that are part of the "first world," this digital divide is clearly present. But at least in the United States and Western Europe, resources exist. Internet access is available free in schools and libraries, broadband communications technology is spreading, albeit slowly and painfully in some places, and the price of the technology is dropping in places. But this doesn't help much in areas where a good job will net you a dollar a day.So the next question is about those who have nothing at all. If the lives of those people are to be improved by technology, there must be a way for them to have access. But governments can't do this, although governments can be enablers. Private industry can't do this because the job is too big. So where does the answer lie? Perhaps the answer is in something that Schmidt alluded to, but didn't mention directly. He pointed out the massive response from the world to help the Japanese people following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the region in 2011. But the community can do much more. Perhaps communities of those who have can help spread access to information to those who have not. Perhaps once helped, those next communities can pass that along to other communities in need. If there is a place where Eric Schmidt can help, this is the place, not in providing a search engine, but in helping communities form and help each other. The payoff for Google may be far down the road, but in the meantime, Schmidt and his company will be helping that part of the world, and eventually will help create that payoff.
When you're making a dollar a day, even a basic cell phone is a major investment. A smartphone may be a fantasy. Wireless service is a major expense. Yet, where these devices have penetrated, they are already changing the lives of millions of people, from farmers to fishermen to office workers. Even some form of communication with the world is a major improvement, and it makes life far better than nothing at all.