Bridging the digital divide

By H.Z. Ally
Guyana Chronicle
May 22, 2000

WE ARE living in exciting times. Rapid advances in science and technology, especially over the past two decades or so have seen a complete revolution in the way we access and transmit information from any corner of the globe, thanks to the Internet. This coupled with the electronic media, in particular cable television, brings in our sitting room coverage of events as any when they happen.

No wonder, this period in which we live is now described as the Age of Information. Our survival both as a nation and as individual beings depends increasingly on our ability to access, process and transmit information.

This is why it is so critical that we prepare ourselves for this new global dispensation, which is increasingly becoming knowledge-driven. Our future depends on our capacity to make use of knowledge in the application of our economic and social life.

Guyana like other developing countries has come to recognise that it is absolutely essential to try and bridge what is often referred to as the "digital divide" which currently exists between the developed North and the developing South. The emphasis is now shifting from a new global economic order to a new global information order to allow for a much more equitable distribution of information technologies.

The good thing about information technology is its transferability and the relative ease with which the technology can be diffused to other countries, regardless of the level of economic or technological development. Put in a different way, developing countries need not be `third world' when it comes to the utilisation and application of information technology.

This is not to suggest that the gap in terms of accessibility to computers is not very significant. A UNDP Report showed that the number of computers in one South East Asian country Thailand is more than the combined number of the entire African continent.

As I mentioned earlier, the computer has in a sense revolutionised the way we conduct our personal and business relationships. The implications are very profound and far-reaching. Thanks to the Internet and advances in communication technologies, it is now possible to benefit from tertiary level education without having to set forth on a university campus. It is now possible to conceive of universities without walls and classrooms without teachers, thanks to teleconferencing facilities and computer-assisted learning.

The world of work is also undergoing modifications where employees can interface with employers and clients from within the confines of their living rooms once the supporting infrastructure is in place.

Guyana is gradually moving ahead with its information technology drive. The number of computers in the workplace, homes and schools continue to increase from year to year.

The computer is soon to replace the typewriter, which is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Electronic mails and E-Commerce are gradually replacing the more conventional methods of interfacing and communication.

The advantages of the computer are too numerous to mention. One obvious advantage is its ability to enhance efficiency and productivity levels by way of better and more effective information flows.

In the final analysis, the efficiency of the information system depends on people with the requisite knowledge and skills to man the system.

This is why there can be no substitute for the development of the human factor. Technology can aid, but by no means supplant the human brainpower, which is the single most important element in terms of human development. Hence the importance of having a `critical mass' of brain power to drive the power of change and development.

This applies to Guyana as to any country. The sooner we get there, the better for us all.