The New Economy in East Asia and the Pacific

By Peter Drysdale | Go to book overview

12

The digital divide in East Asia

Emmanuel C. Lallana


INTRODUCTION

Information and communication technology (ICT), as the advertisement reminds us, will 'change the way we live, work and play'. Already it has made possible the emergence of what Manuel Castells (1996) identified as a 'global economy'-an economy 'with the capacity to work as a unit in real time on a planetary scale'.

Economists are still debating the precise effect of ICT on productivity, but the G-8's Digital Opportunity Task Force, in its final report, concluded (DOT Force 2001):

…when wisely applied [ICTs]…offer enormous opportunities to narrow social and economic inequalities and support sustainable local wealth creation, and thus help to achieve the broader development goals that the international community has set.

The DOT Force also reported (DOT Force 2001) that ICT 'can provide new and more efficient methods of production, bring previously unattainable markets within the reach of local producers, improve the delivery of government services, and increase access to basic social goods and services'.

Policy-makers and opinion makers in developing countries are encouraged to see ICT as an 'enabler of development' (Accenture, Markle Foundation and UNDP 2001). ICT is said to help in enhancing rural productivity by allowing solution sharing among communities and providing timely market information to farmers. It is also being touted for its ability to help developing economies make real progress in health and education. For reformers, the appeal of ICT also comes from its potential to create an informed (and therefore empowered) citizenry. They are also attracted to the idea of a more efficient and transparent government brought about by widespread ICT use.

However, the bad news for developing countries is that the rapid uptake and global spread of ICT has been unequal. Bridges.org reports that, while all countries are increasing access to and use of ICT, '…the "information have" countries are increasing their access to and use at such an exponential rate that, in effect, the divide between countries is actually growing'. 1

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