Brecha Digital

July 18, 2023

The other digital divide

After a few posts focused on pure technology, we think it's about time to take a moment to reflect upon the world around us. We're not (only) talking about tech this time! Although we are using it less these days, the term digital divide has traditionally served to denote scarcity or inequality in the distribution of resources, infrastructure and digital literacy among certain groups or territories, and which has slowed down or unbalanced its widespread adoption. There is no reason for us to stop using this term, but times changes and so does our environment. Well, now that things like 5G have slotted naturally into our lives, it's time for the meaning to evolve.

New challenges

We could consider this other digital divide as one with a more strategic and global dimension, and reflect upon the evolution of this technological world we're living in. Let's talk about scenarios which bring about challenges, tensions, or global friction behind the scenes of the digital revolution. The subject is boundless and hundreds of pages could be written, so I will use the excuse that I am limited for space when writing this article to list just a few of them.

  • Innovation (which is all too easy) We are discovering that the innovation we're seeing in the world of technology is happening more quickly and more cheaply, democratising the sector and taking many of the old guard by surprise, and even expelling them entirely. The unprecedented pace of some of these disruptions (such as generative AI, quantum computing or decentralised technologies, to name but a few examples) is constantly threatening larger technology providers with their own irrelevance. It may be that they cannot compete (other than financially) with these smaller and more agile tech films who are far more able to innovate. This could shift our current paradigm entirely.
  • The individual as power. We don't need to talk about companies any more. An individual or a small group of individuals (working outside of an organisation and, as a result, less easily controlled or influenced) may be, in some areas of digital development, much more up-to-date with the transmission of innovation than a tech giant with all its resources and tentacles. Take a look at how things are going and what is happening in the pressure cooker of innovation, such as hackathons or collaborative platforms like Discord or Mastodon. For some time now, venture risk capital firms have invested millions of dollars in startups emerging from these very places.
  • Accumulating information is no longer useful. Just as we had got used to dealing with the possession of information, considered to be worth its weight in gold, it now seems that the time is upon us in which data in itself is no longer of much value. Rather, the ability to produce predictive or synthesis algorithms is considered more valuable these days. These algorithms will not even need to collect original information, but rather work perfectly with data generated by others. Information by weight has been devalued when compared to the ability to manufacture it.
  • Regulate and paralyse. The explosion of AI is resurrecting the same old ghosts that have always gripped society in the face of disruptions with the potential to bring change to traditional behaviours or structures. This is especially true when no one seems to be able to predict what will happen tomorrow. Society currently finds itself in a moment of irrepressible fear (or uncertainty, which is worse) of the hypothetical dominion of the world by machines which are capable of thinking - and worse, of feeling - for themselves. In this regard, national or supranational political institutions are beginning to start up the regulatory machinery, incapable, indiscriminate and paralysing, and thus repeat the same old mistakes: a simplistic analysis of reality, zero management of uncertainty, and a slow reaction to technological and social changes that, in the end, always end up filtering through cracks in the rules.
  • The lottery of natural resources. Nature has been capricious with its role in the evolution of technology, situating most of the natural deposits that are key to digitisation in regions in which war and tension are prevalent, or where working conditions are unacceptable and even inhuman. One example is mineral cobalt (essential for manufacturing batteries for electric cars, for example). The most important deposits were found in Congo (accounting for more than half of production worldwide), have now been exploited with labour practices that are often considered illegal, and are being controlled by one power, China, which controls 44% of global production and 77% of refining of this mineral, according to Darton Commodities. Tensions over these essential resources for mobility in the 21st century do not only exist, but are sure to get worse over time.

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