One of the Internet’s greatest attributes is its potential to be a democratizing tool. As the most powerful networked technology ever created, by design, every user has can have a platform and a loudspeaker.
Unlike previous communication technologies, like radio or television, which broadcast one message to the masses, with the rise of the internet came the ability for individuals to not only be part of an audience, but broadcasters in their own right.
This has had implications on everything from entertainment and how a star is born, to politics and how a revolution is organized.
But when it comes to this great virtue of the net, there is one simple truth that is often overlooked, especially by those of us westerners in the privileged position of scrolling through articles like this one on our smart phones: For the internet to be truly democratizing, everyone needs to have access to it, and currently, too many people don’t, including women, children, marginalized people and Indigenous populations.
‘Digital access is becoming the new dividing line, as millions of the children who could most benefit from digital technology are missing out,’
– UNICEF report
This was a central theme in Children in a Digital World, a recent report published by UNICEF, which says that “digital access is becoming the new dividing line, as millions of the children who could most benefit from digital technology are missing out.”
The premise of the report is that the advantages of the internet are plentiful: Digital technologies offer opportunities to learn, giving children not only access to information on issues that affect their communities, but the capacity to help solve them. Additionally, the internet provides economic opportunities by creating new kinds of work, and by providing new training opportunities and job-matching services.
But to reap those rewards, you need access, and according to UNICEF, approximately 346 million individuals — almost a third of youth world-wide — are not online.
So, who are the young people without access? The same social divides that plague life offline create barriers for online connection as well. Children in low-income countries are the least likely to have access to digital technology.
“This digital divide directly exacerbates the…