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The untold impacts of the digital divide

The advent of the “fourth industrial revolution” has brought advanced digitalisation into the global economy, with increasing access to information and connectivity. The rise in technology throughout the world is apparent, over the last 10 years, the top five companies in the world have transitioned into tech companies. This revolution has caused a gap within and among nations with digital infrastructures, connectivity and access and those without, which has been conceptualised as the “digital divide”.

Future Impacts of the Digital Divide

The impacts and ramifications of the “digital divide” is difficult to objectively calculate as it affects a vast number of areas including the poverty gap but also perpetuates the effects of gender inequality, and marginalisation among society. Those without knowledge and access to technology miss out on major opportunities for social and economic development. The digital divide also creates a barrier for the growth of entrepreneurship and businesses greatly impacting future wealth accumulation which is greatly influenced by technology. The problems associated with the digital divide is further amplified in the Asia-Pacific region which contains close to 60% of the world’s population but falls significantly short in terms of internet penetration at about 52% compared to the average between Europe, United States and Australia at 85%. These statistics show a strong correlation to other global economic and social indicators such as GDP and equality.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the impacts of the digital divide with lockdowns and restrictions affecting students and employees who are unable to have reliable internet access from home limiting their ability to work and study from home. Countries such as the United States, Europe and Australia with advanced and complex digital infrastructures were able to quickly adapt to the lockdown and deliver their education remotely while other countries specifically in the ASEAN region, such as India where millions of children have no access to adequate technology are forced to fall behind in education. This will have exponential impacts on their future as it will affect their scores in standardised tests that are key for children in lower socio-economic statues to earn scholarships for tertiary education. As a result, this can impact their income potential and employment opportunities that could bring them out of poverty. 

Bridging the GapBoth the United States and Australia are global superpowers as highlighted by the fact that technology within eight of the top 10 tech companies are  from the US and have a combined internet penetration of close to 90%. Being in this privileged position I believe that both countries can use this to help aid countries in the Indo-Pacific region in bridging the digital divide, and leverage upon often forgotten assets such as a large population and manpower to help rapidly increase technological advancement. Governments in the United States and Australia should think about implementing policies to help incentivise firms and start-ups to solve problems faced by many third world Indo-Pacific and ASEAN countries. Some of the common issues causing the digital gap include, weak and unreliable internet connection, inadequate technological equipment such as laptops and computers, lack of educational resources and knowledge related to technology and programming. The initial investment made by governments in the United States and Australia will have compounding effects in the development of these developing nations and also provide firms from the United States and Australia with added customers and target markets due to the increase in internet penetration in ASEAN countries with high populations. By increasing the education and investment in technology in third-world countries, these developing nations could launch their own technological development and trigger an increase of local start-ups to solve regional problems unique to the nation. 

Infographic by Divakar Subramaniam

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