Web We Want’s newsletter highlights one important topic every week and tells you what you need to know in 3 minutes or less.
What’s Going On?
With more smartphones everywhere, the push for computers in developing countries has waned. After all, no one cares what device is used, as long as people connect to the Internet. Right? Wrong! The device may not matter, but the true potential of the Web to transform societies can only be unlocked if you create your own content and applications. For that, you will usually need a monitor and a keyboard.
Unfortunately, the question of phones vs. computers in the context of development is often framed as an either/or question. We need both. With limited resources, questions like ‘Should we fight malaria or buy computers?’ distract from the fact that both are key. Especially considering information technology makes it easier to fight malaria.
A little bit of Internet on a mobile phone may be preferable to none at all, but we should reject any notion that poor people should settle for an inferior version of the Web. Without the ability to create content on websites, blogs or Wikipedia, new Internet users may find very little of value to them, and the Internet will simply become another one-way medium like TV.
Who’s Doing Something?
Digital divides are bridged within countries and internationally through philanthropic, government, and civic initiatives. Even the richest countries have populations that need help getting online. What could people from marginalised communities possibly create? See the Rising Voices initiative of Global Voices for dozens of examples.
Computers may cost more than phones, but they can also deliver cheaper and faster Internet access in cafés or hubs. Keepod aims to make computing in poor communities a reality with a $7 USB stick that loads a personal Android operating system on any shared machine.
With more commercial ambitions, Andela is a company that pays bright people in Africa to study programming and employs them to work remotely for technology companies abroad.
What Should I Do?Donate your used computers and phones so someone less fortunate can enjoy them. Support initiatives for high speed internet and real computers for people in marginalised communities (as well as for mobile internet). When you talk to friends and colleagues, reject notions that poor people should be satisfied by limited versions of the Internet. Use your computer to create content in your local language, and volunteer to teach people who are not yet digitally literate.