technological innovation

From Innovation to Exclusion: A Mirror to Our Digital Divide

The rate at which technological innovations are introduced into society is increasing exponentially, yet with each new step ahead there is little consideration for how the already disenfranchised might become more marginalized. Despite the rise in mobile connectivity around the world, there are still individuals that have limited access to technology. And as more tech-enabled solutions are woven into the fabric of our society, this gap in access and knowledge can perpetuate further socioeconomic inequality. Without investing in ways to bridge this gap, society will see the technological exclusion of groups ranging from the poor to the elderly.

Technological exclusion comes with two major dangers for the groups excluded. It can significantly reduce job prospects and limit individuals from being productive members of society. Today, there are new users of technology that are scrambling to master the latest skills and programming languages to get hired. However, the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning threatens to automate a number of jobs that can be done by these same individuals. As these advanced technologies replace existing jobs, we will see a growing divide between those who had access to new technologies and those who did not.

Individuals with access have the privilege of embracing technology integration and the capacity to improve their digital literacy. The onset of the 4th industrial revolution has changed how society produces and consumes goods and services. It is safe to say that the future holds more transformation. Those with access will be able to adapt to new changes while the ones without, who already may be unemployed, may struggle to perform their day-to-day tasks due to said changes. With about 90% of the population lagging behind in digital literacy,[1] the speed at which we incorporate new technologies can hamper our ability to bridge the growing gap.

Critics will argue that there have been efforts to encourage inclusivity. They may claim that billions of individuals are connected to the internet and have access to applications that can help them solve their respective problems. This is true. India’s Union Government has spent over $68 billion to boost phone connectivity and digital literacy.[2] However, it is important to note that such access is fairly recent and as a result of government and business investment of time and money. For example, the explosion of the digital payments market in Southeast Asia is a result of this realization that inclusivity generates more productivity.

Bridging the Gap

Inclusion can only come about if there is access. The government, arguably the most important stakeholder and enabler of change, must identify ways to improve access to new technologies for individuals across all socioeconomic strata. The Union Government has already demonstrated the focus on digitally empowering every citizen and has made an investment in this space. However, the sheer capital needed for the degree of rural penetration required in India is significant; the government alone cannot hope to solve this problem and needs businesses to leverage their capacity to improve the pace and scale of investment.

The government should also explore policy options to provide individuals at the bottom of the pyramid the resources they need to integrate new technology solutions into their daily lives. They could also subsidize education to encourage study in this field. Without government support, exposure to advancing technologies will continue to be limited and will only be available to the privileged. From study to use, businesses and government should ensure that no group is left behind so as to prevent them from being productive members of a tech-integrated society.

[1] Digital Empowerment Foundation Report
[2] Wertime, Kent. “Closing The Digital Divide In India | WPP”. Wpp.Com, 2019, https://www.wpp.com/featured/diversity-and-inclusion/closing-the-digital-divide-in-india.