In our rapidly evolving world, technology has emerged as a powerful force that can level the playing field in society, but only if it is accessible to all.
Unfortunately, the reality of our existence does not fully support this egalitarian vision, especially in Nigeria and across Africa. A glaring digital divide persists, where only a select few are tech-savvy and have unhindered access to the wonders of digital technology, while the majority remain in the dark. Just as class struggles often see the bourgeoisie exerting dominance over the proletariat, a similar dynamic unfolds in the realm of technology, with rural dwellers largely unaware of how technology can be harnessed for development. This status quo demands our serious scrutiny and immediate intervention.
The term “digital divide” refers to the disparities in access to modern information and communications technology (ICT) between different demographics and regions. This technology encompasses a wide range of tools, from telephones and television to personal computers and internet connectivity. The unfortunate truth is that those without access or with restricted access are predominantly situated in rural areas, but the divide also extends to some urban dwellers whose economic circumstances hinder their access to digital technology. Consequently, the digital divide cuts across demographics, affecting both rural and urban populations. Many individuals who could potentially be drivers of solutions are confined by their lack of access or restricted access to the tools and facilities that could enable them to contribute meaningfully to society. This is a disservice to society as a whole.
A society that fails to harness the full potential of its citizens may fall short of its development aspirations. Therefore, it is imperative that everyone is included in the technological landscape of the 21st century. Instead of a digital divide, we need digital inclusion to fuel sustainable development.
Allowing the digital divide to persist will lead to the marginalization of certain segments of society in terms of resources and innovative thinking. Issues that could be resolved through digital means will continue to be approached with analogue methods, impeding growth and development. It is essential to emphasize that the digital divide can also contribute to an increase in crime and criminal activities. Those who perceive themselves as disadvantaged may be tempted to prey on those they perceive as privileged. Such a society is undesirable; we should aspire to create a fair and egalitarian society where each member supports one another to build a functional society. Achieving this goal requires a commitment to digital inclusion.
Digital inclusion is the path to follow. It entails providing equitable, meaningful, and secure access for everyone, everywhere to use, lead, and design digital technologies, services and opportunities. To achieve this, barriers such as the cost of devices and internet connectivity for low-income individuals, the lack of knowledge and skills required to easily navigate digital tools and technologies, and the challenges of implementing ICT infrastructure in certain areas must be addressed.
Policies must be crafted to drive digital inclusion, with institutions responsible for digital technologies developing programs aimed at reaching those who remain disconnected from the digital realm. Public-private partnerships will be invaluable in expanding access to as many people as possible. Collaboration among stakeholders in digital technologies is imperative to bridge the digital divide effectively. Digital inclusion is not only desirable; it is essential to driving sustainable development in our society.