Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Great Knowledge Divide

 Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge ?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information ? 

                                                                - (TS Eliot)

Which is the most popular search engine? Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves orAltavista? This has been the point of discussion of many IT magazines recently, triggering off a new war in the media scenario, the war of search engines. The war may not be perceptible to many for it is waged only at one end of the digital divide. A battle typical of the networking times to emerge as the most sought after personal knowledge-management systems. Perhaps it is an anachronism to call them search engines, for search for knowledge is  matter of the past, and the homo sapien is concerned only about effectively managing his knowledge, ie, to acquire the right knowledge at the right time.
Net surveys say that Google has become the most popular ‘knowledge manager’ within a short span., thanks to the simple presentation, dedicated service, and constant innovations in both services and technology. Last month Search Engine Watch put Google on top of the list with 13 million search hours during March 2002, while Yahoo! came next only with 5.4 million search hours. Measuring service also placed Google as number one search engine offering 47 percent of search referrals world wide.
Whatever be the stats, Google, Yahoo! etc. form parts of the online knowledge systems, which make digital divide a real knowledge divide. The figures quoted above also tell us yet another story. Out of the 13 million search hours spent of Google and billions of search hours thrown before the monitors when the ratings of the other search services combined how much comes from the users of developing countries or the heavily indebted poor nations? This becomes evident when we know the truth that PC ownership in low income countries is only 5.1 per thousand, whereas in the high ­income nations it is 392.7 per thou­sand and net users amounting to 9.3 million and 269.8 million respectively. In India PC penetra­tion is only 4.5 per thousand.
A recent report of the Digital Divide Network says that there are 429 million people online globally and of this 41 percent belong to the US and Canada. 27 percent lives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 20 percent belongs to Asia Pacific and only 4 percent in South America. The fact that this 429 million forms only 6 percent of the world population, clearly points to the divide in the digital times.
If the revolutionary ICT ushers in only these well-defined knowl­edge platforms, how could it help the poor and the downtrodden who have no access to these knowledge systems, acquire a vertical mobili­ty. For the knowledge divide always begets a 'techno theid' read­ily adopted and accredited by the industry. Today's business firms are much evolved and the manage­ment practices and works on the basic principle that every worker is well informed, and hence knowl­edge management portfolios in most Fortune 500 companies. These knowledge managers stress life long learning as one of the main features of the new work environment characterized by knowledge sharing through intranets.     Swedish company Skandia includes intellectual assets on its balance sheets. Wipro has a web platform Kalpavriksha, for knowledge sharing. British Petroleum uses e-mail and video­conferencing to facilitate internal knowledge flows. Siemens give solutions from the Web-based ShareNet system on Palm Pilots for its mobile workers. Thus the digi­tal divide finds vocation only for the techno-savvy netizens who can use the new info gadgets and adapt to this sophisticated environment, which is definitely not for the 'mal­informed'. This is proved by a recent report in that in the hubs of Asia's IT activity, more people are looking towards job search sites to get jobs, a situ­ation applicable to all activity cen­ters of ICT around the globe where 'technolaggards' at the bottom rung of the divide will be pushed out.
The knowledge divide is also an infrastructure as well as an eco­nomic divide. 'The privilege groups acquire and use technology more effectively, and because the technology benefits them in an exponential way, they become even more privileged', and thus creating a domestic divide con­comitant to the international divide. The income disparities in the ICT nourished economies prove this. The ICT generates more lucrative employments and entrepreneurships that do not dif­fuse down to a major illiterate or under skilled population in most ICT fuelled upcoming economies, thus taking the economic inequali­ties, wider and wider.
Come to the other fact sheet. In Bangladesh a computer costs the equivalent of eight years average pay, according to the The Economist. 66% of the population of Zimbabwe does not have access to sanitation, almost half of the world's 6 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and up to 80% of the world's population has never made a phone call, says the World Resources Institute. And the World Food Programme has found that 12.8 million people are starving in six southern African countries. How can we make way for ICT ignoring poverty deaths and our malnourished children?
The clamour today is 'ICT for all' and 'to empower people to cross the Digital Divide'. But what the world need is a bridge to cross the divide, for which a collective effort by voluntary agencies, national governments and private players is the answer. The efforts made by, Acacia ini­tiative, Infodev project etc, in addi­tion to some very valuable work towards this end carried out in a humble and silent manner by Mr. Kutty Ahmed Kutty and IKM in Kerala deserve special mention here. Or be it the initiatives like Gramdoot service from the private players such as Aksh Optifibres for setting up multimedia Internet kiosks in 2,50,000 villages across the country over the next 10 years .. Efforts do not end with awareness campaigns or providing infrastruc­ture, but also have to break the barriers of building a low cost peo­ple's computer like the Indian Simputer, or Brazil's Popular PC project and also in extending inter­net services in local languages, or providing free translation services, like Langoo, which could cross the language barrier. ICT empowers people, but the social realities should not be lost sight of.

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