What digital divide?!

Catchphrases help us hold our intellectual head up high, socially. We can use buzzwords and Catchphrases as a mark of our understanding, our expertise, insight, intuition and general intellectual prowess. Some catchphrases were not really uttered but simply invented – – and then carried through the ages, delivered diligently from eager sender to ecstatic receiver. We now know, for example, that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake!” – well, in fact she did not even say the reported French retort – “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” but let’s not let facts kill a good meme, S’il vous plaît!In his book “Made in America” Bill Bryson reveals that Patrick Henry did not say a single word of his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech. Then, we have modern catchphrase. While these aren’t urban legends, they sure are powerful memes.

One of the people sitting in on a presentation I did recently, asked me about my thoughts on the digital divide.

What digital divide?!

Definitions first. According to Wikipedia:  “The term digital divide refers to the gap between those people with effective access to digital and information technology and those without.” This definition has its heart in the right place, problem is, this is an antiquated concept because, by and large, the digital divide is no more.

The digital divide is anchored in historical facts, through the last decade of the previous century and the first years of this one, digital existence was based almost inclusively on computers, PCs, laptops and similar devices. The first barrier was the actual technology behind the devices – processing speed, memory size, graphic capabilities, storage space etc. Then, crucially, the divide arose from the devices’ ability to connect to the Internet via an ISP. The third divide related to available bandwidth. There is no doubt that one could easily demarcate the divide between haves and have-nots.

Enters the cellphone.

The United Nations’ Population Division, which is part of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, estimates that by 2010 the total world population will reach 6.9 billion and by 2015 it will hit 7.3 billion. According to the Portio Research Mobile Factbook 2016, the current number of worldwide mobile subscribers is estimated around 3.5 billion. That number is set to reach 4.5 billion subscribers by 2011. Portio’s latest report estimates further that the number of worldwide mobile subscribers will reach 5.5 billion by the end of 2013 – this means that around the year 2013, 77.46% of the world’s population, will be mobile phone subscribers.

Let’s revisit our list of barriers to digital entry. 5.5 billion mobile phone subscribers will have no problem with processing speed, memory size, graphic capabilities and storage space, all of which are available on even the most humble handsets. Accessibility and bandwidth will be provided by the networks – allowing minimal access to internet resources. The combination of satellite technologies, international submarine communications cables and local capabilities should be able to guarantee at least entry level connectivity to most of the world’s cellphone subscribers.

With 74% of the world’s population using cellphones there can be no digital divide.

We need to address a potential challenges to my statement: Maybe the digital divide will simply realign itself along the fault lines between cellphones and the old Desktop / laptop guard, dividing the world between mobile have not’s with vs. desktop / laptop have’s? The answer to this is obvious when looking at the massive realignment in the industry to realise that the move to mobile-universe is a no-brainer. Consider, for example, Nokia’s acquisition and subsequent release as open source of Symbian, Apple iPhone, Google Android and Google Chrome, the various Linux flavoured mobile OS’s and, of course, Microsoft Mobile Windows. There is no doubt that there is life after PC/Laptop.

If three-quarters of people on earth will have a cellphone, you can bet that they will be surrounded with ISPs, keen to provide access, handset sellers with a string of upgrades and networks with subsidies package deals and – most auspicious – content providers offering an endless stream of goodies – from text to social SMS to audio, to podcasts, to video, to the full Monty.

Those who keep banding that almost-dead horse of digital divide should web-Google “mobile web usage” and do a quick scan of the first 5 or 6 result headers –

1. Dan’s Blog (2.0) » iPhone Spurs Mobile Web Usage
2. Opera: Mobile web usage continues to rise worldwide
3. Mobile web usage grows nearly 30% in Q2
4. Mobile Web Usage Up 29 Percent; Carrier-Driven Traffic Continues…
5. Mobile Web Use Growing Faster than Ever

If this will not convince some of the digital divide diehards then, to quote old Queen Marie “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

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