Putting Things in Perspective

What is the best way to bridge the so-called digital divide?

• Provide a sub-$100 notebook computer for educational use in developing nations?
• Introduce an ultra low-cost computer that is a combination phone and personal organizer that can be fitted with an inexpensive display and keyboard?
• Offer a sub-$400 educational laptop and a five-year $1 billion program to train teachers and extend wireless digital Internet access worldwide?

These are the approaches taken by, respectively, former MIT Media Lab Chair Nicholas Negroponte, Microsoft and Intel. These may be three of the most influential organizations in the new technology world, and so it is interesting that they are working on developing products for undeveloped nations. Usually their efforts are aimed at a more traditional approach of adding new features and gizmos or inventing advanced products.

The fact that this issue is being debated in such heady locations as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and there is no agreement about the right solution suggests we are a ways away from an "aha" moment. All these solutions are likely to be pushed ahead, probably in partnerships with major organizations or government groups in nonindustrialized countries.

It wasn't that long ago that my wife and I first watched a major event take place on CNN while she was in New Jersey and I was in Hong Kong. When the whole world can watch news events unfold simultaneously on the Internet, the world will have shrunk decidedly.

It sure makes the issues of Internet Yellow Pages and local search seem unimportant in the scheme of things.

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