When I first started working at Ziff Davis, “working remotely” was a term that hadnt entered the common vernacular. It may have been possible at that time—1990—but it would have been very difficult.
The first time I worked remotely was after my first child was born. I was set up with a laptop (and, given its size, I use the term loosely), a fax machine and a 28.8K-bps modem. The old joke was that you could get a cup of coffee while your system rebooted. Well, during the time it took to do just about anything remotely back then—including opening an e-mail—I could have made breakfast.
Fast-forward to today: Working remotely isnt just commonly known, its commonly done. Pretty much all the people I know—including two of my friends who are nurses—work away from their primary workplace at least one day per week. (The nurses are taking care of paperwork—not caring for patients—when theyre working remotely, but that day may come, too!) Technology seems so ubiquitous—and fast—that its easy to take the strides we have made for granted.
Where am I going with all this? Lots of places. It occurred to me that as I write this column, I work with colleagues in Washington, D.C.; New York; San Francisco; Virginia; Philadelphia; and Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa. It doesnt matter where my colleagues are—we are able to work together, pretty much transparently, because we have access to current technology and the training to use it.
From Burkina Faso, Senior Editor Peter Galli is filing stories from the Information and Communication Technology Best Practices Forum. At the conference, which was held June 6-8, participants shared ideas about the use of ICT for social and economic development. From half a world away, and using his laptop and one of the many Internet kiosks he has encountered, Peter has filed some amazing stories and photographs, all of which are at eweek.com. (And his Reporters Notebook is on Page 13.) But for many in Africa and in other developing regions, that kind of access is currently unattainable—if not unimaginable.
Thats where Microsoft, with its Unlimited Potential Initiative, and the One Laptop Per Child organization come in. These groups and others are working to ensure that technology can be leveraged around the world to drive social and economic growth.
Its a huge digital divide, and its incumbent on us in the industry to work to close it. Id remind everyone, though, not to forget the digital divide at home. In a country that takes technology for granted, the digital divide here could grow wider—and harder to close.