Bifurcation of Policy between the ‘‘Digital Divide’’

Globalization and Technology Divides: Bifurcation of
Policy between the ‘‘Digital Divide’’ and the ‘‘Innovation
Gili S. Drori, Stanford University
The global diffusion of digital technology, which occurred more rapidly than the
global diffusion of any technology previously, has been mired by its uneven distribution across, and unequal effects on, societies worldwide. In addition, policy initiatives
to close this global digital divide, which peaked with the two World Summit on Information Society conferences, still did not change the course of this differentiated globalization process. In this article, I attribute the cause of such stalling of policy on the
issue of the global digital divide to the bifurcation of current international policy: attention is split between concern for the impeded access of the poor to this revolutionary
technology, on the one hand, and the race to lead the world in creating the next ‘‘hot’’
technology, on the other. These two concerns, which have been given the pithy titles of
the ‘‘global digital divide’’ and the ‘‘global innovation divide,’’ are leading to two separate policy tracks, targeting the world’s laggards and leaders as separate entities and
operating under separate logics. This separation is problematic because the issues of
access to technology and ownership of rights to technology are intertwined. This article
describes the two global technology divides and analyzes the policies that are currently
charted to address them.
Technology is considered a marker of human achievement: from the
‘‘stone age’’ to the ‘‘space age,’’ we take note of particular eras in the history
of civilization by their technological accomplishment. The current era celebrates digital technology, commonly referred to as information and communication technology (ICT), as its marker. Our times are surely shaped by ICT,
partly because such technologies carry the essence of what is commonly
referred to as the age of globalization: global reaches, fast pace, and knowledge as the main commodity. Indeed, the global diffusion of ICT has occurred
at a pace exceeding that of any other technology: it took the telephone
75 years and television 13 years to acquire 50 million users worldwide,
whereas it took the Internet only 5 years to reach the same following (Main
2001). But the current era, which is appropriately marked with the addition of
the prefix ‘‘e-’’ to the new and global economic sector (e-economy) and to
related technology-based social initiatives (e-government and e-mpowerment),
Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 80, No. 1, February 2010, 63–91
2010 Alpha Kappa Delta
DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00316.x
also gave similarly clever labels to their critiques (e-mperialism and e-litism).
Scholars and policy-makers are concerned, therefore, not only with the opportunities for global integration and economic prosperity that come with ICT but
also with the social divides that are magnified by the vastly differentiated
access and use of digital technology.
This article discusses global inequality in ICT access and capacity by
considering the two most acute global technology divides: (1) the ‘‘digital
divide’’ which describes the gap in access and use of ICT and (2) the ‘‘innovation divide’’ which describes the gap in technology creation and thus in ownership of the related intellectual property (IP). Both of these divides are
regarded as global, differentiating among countries and creating a world of
unequal distribution and, most importantly, diverging trajectories of social progress. This shared vision of technology as a basis for global divides, I argue,
masks the bifurcation of research and policy on the uneven globalization of
ICT: the attention split between the ‘‘digital divide’’ and the ‘‘innovation
divide’’ results in two separate policy tracks, targeting the world’s laggards
and leaders as separate entities and operating under separate logics. This separation is problematic because, as explained in the following article, the issues
of access to technology and ownership of rights to technology are intertwined.
To articulate this argument, I start by describing the phenomenal rates of
ICT globalization in the past several decades, adding that such rapid rates of
technology creation and global distribution have resulted in dramatic global
divides. Specifically, I describe in detail two ICT-related global divides,
namely the global digital divide and the global innovation divide. I compare
between the two global ICT-related divides, highlighting how their unique definition of technology diffusion as a social problem create a bifurcated image
for policy-makers. To accentuate the point that this bifurcation of policy is
problematic, I compare between ICT-related policies and international initiatives regarding medical technology. I conclude with comments about the
image of digital technology as a panacea for global social ills.
Speed and Hope Intertwined: The Global Diffusion of Digital Technology
Departing from its tradition of naming a ‘‘Man of the Year,’’ in 1982
Time Magazine chose instead to name the computer the ‘‘Machine of the
Year.’’ In the short two and a half decades since then, computers, and other
ICTs such as mobile telephones and the Internet, came to fulfill the dedication
statement made by Time Magazine’s editor at the time: ICT came ‘‘to symbolize our times so richly’’ and to ‘‘be judged by history as the most significant’’
of human technologies (Time Magazine 1983).
The significance of ICT comes not only from its visible impact on our
daily life but also from the exceptional rate of ICT adoption worldwide. The
single ENIAC machine of 1946 proliferated into more than 900 million personal computers (PCs) in use, more than 1.4 billion Internet users, and more
than 3.3 billion mobile phone users worldwide in 2007.1 Such rapid adoption
into households and businesses meant a shortening of the duration of building
up a market for the products and of building a users’ community for each
product. The expansion of the Internet confirms both ‘‘Moore’s Law,’’ which
predicts the doubling of computing power every 18 months, and ‘‘Gilder’s
Law,’’ which forecasts the doubling of telecommunications power every
6 months (see Drori 2005). With this rapid expansion of capacity also came a
dramatic reduction in cost: the cost of a single megabit of computer memory
dropped from U.S.$ 5,257 in 1970 to only U.S.$.17 in 1999 (UNDP 2001).
These changes in availability and affordability of ICT made these technologies
accessible to more people in more places.
Such availability and accessibility allowed developing nations to ‘‘leap
frog’’ into the digital age. Most obviously, developing nations were able to
progress by relying on mobile telephony, which eliminated the need for costly
infrastructure investment. In Africa, for example, the number of subscribers to
fixed-line telephones (per 100 inhabitants) grew between 1996 and 2006 from
1.9 to 3.2, whereas the subscription rate to mobile phones grew 100-fold, from
0.2 to 21.6,2 with mobile phone users accounting for 89.6 percent of total
telephone subscribers in this region in 2007.3 Similarly, broadband Internet
connection has been replacing narrowband connectivity, allowing for faster
and more reliable access to the worldwide Web (ITU ⁄ UNCTAD 2007).
Resulting from such proliferation of ICT and from the subsequent ‘‘gadget race’’ to bring more ICT to market, a new economic sector emerged. The
consolidation of Silicon Valley as a new type of industrial sector and district
in the 1970s (Le´cuyer 2006), with contemporaneous techno-entrepreneurial
initiatives in Scandinavia (Richards 2004), were rapidly followed by the
spread of technology manufacturing and later R&D to several Tiger economies.4 Within a decade, the new economic sector turned global (Kogut 2003).
This emergence of a new global economic sector marks the creation of a postindustrial and global information economy, which also changed the nature of
global business (Gereffi 2001). Its emergence was carried by a wave of liberalization initiatives in countries worldwide, most dramatically after 1989
(Simmons, Dobbin, and Garrett 2008), which lowered the barriers to such
industrial and commercial penetration. As a consequence, this emergence of a
new sector demanded major economic adjustments: in infrastructure (wiring,
energy supply, and industrial parks), in labor skills (computer and engineering
skills, language), and in funding sources (venture capital, rapid IPOs). These
resulted in a new global industrial geography, creating clusters of high-tech
industry spread worldwide (Drori and Yue 2009; Hillner 2000; Jussawalla and
Taylor 2003). The transnational nature of this emerging economic sector
induced rapid change to the foundations of trade and business. First, ‘‘around
the clock’’ work shifts morphed into ‘‘around the world’’ work shifts, as IT
corporations spread their operations worldwide and stretched production
accordingly with the goal of expediting time-to-market. Second, labor, capital,
and commodities became truly mobile on a global scale and thus required an
adjustment in the international and national governance mechanisms to administer and guide such fields (see Rose 2005; Sassen 1996; West 2005).
Several countries took advantage of the emerging global e-economy and
transformed their national economic structure. Costa Rica, for one, dedicated
financing from Inter-American Development Bank as early as 1974 to expand
the Costa Rican Technological Institute into what has become one of Latin
America’s most advanced computer science and software engineering schools;
this human capital investment helped lure Intel into building one of its biggest
microchip plants in Costa Rica in 1997; and, in 1999, computer microchips
accounted for 37 percent of Costa Rica’s exports and transformed this once
‘‘banana republic’’ (Hoffmann 2004; Kendall 2002). Other countries, most
notably India, Israel, and Taiwan, complemented this strategy of public investment in human capital with a strategy of reliance on their diasporic communities (Breznitz 2005, 2006; Saxenian 2002). These countries strengthened the
relations with their diaspora in Silicon Valley to help build a national ICT
sector, to create impressive national venture capital (VC) activity, and—with
acquisitions of local technology by American high-technology companies and
the building of local R&D centers for American high-technology companies—to sprout many start-ups that brought substantial foreign direct investment (FDI). In Israel, for example, exports of high-technology products
accounted for 55 percent of all exports in 2000, up from 23 percent in 1991,5
and in 2006 the total telecommunication revenue accounted for 4.2 percent of
gross domestic product (GDP).6
But even for nations who came to be known as ‘‘IT superstars,’’ the
economic growth and prosperity from ICT did not trickle down to be evenly
shared among the whole population. Rather, access and use of ICT came,
first and foremost, to the socially privileged. Globally, this uneven distribution is clear as well, with the world’s richest economies also being those
leading in ICT penetration. For example, in 2006 the world’s top 20 countries in terms of broadband penetration included 12 European countries, 5
Asian countries, and Israel, the United States, and Canada.7 In this way, fast
globalization meant highly unequal diffusion and high global inequality: the
‘‘information society’’ and great promises of its related ‘‘information superhighway’’ and ‘‘digital opportunities’’ also meant the creation of a ‘‘digital
Gaping Divides: The Uneven Global Diffusion of Digital Technology
In 2000, Jeffrey Sachs proclaimed that ‘‘today’s world is divided not by
ideology but by technology,’’ reflecting the enchanted reality prior to 9 ⁄ 11
and the bursting of the bubble. At that time, the fast pace of expansion of the e-economy seemed unstoppable. But, on its flip side, the fast pace
of ICT diffusion also meant that laggards were rapidly left fast behind, or
‘‘falling through the net’’ (as was the title of a series of NTIA8 reports on the
digital have-nots in the United States). Hence, when ICT of various sorts have
been proliferating rapidly worldwide, access and use of such technologies have
been unevenly distributed, both intranationally and internationally.
The Global Digital Divide
In 2006, just over 10 percent of the population in developing countries
was using the Internet, compared with close to 60 percent in the developed
world.9 In Africa the situation was much worse: in 2007, only some 5 out of
every 100 Africans used the Internet, compared with an average of 1 out of
every 2 inhabitants in the G8 countries. African countries accounted for 20
out of the world’s 30 countries where Internet penetration is lower than 1 percent. The total number of Internet users in the whole of Africa amounted to
less than 20 percent of Internet users in the United States alone. Even the
much celebrated leap-frogging enabled by mobile telephony did not eliminate
the differences in the penetration of this technology across world regions:
whereas the average annual growth rate in mobile phone subscribers in the
short period 2002–2007 in Africa is a staggering 49 percent, bringing Africa
mobile phone penetration in 2007 to 28.44 per 100 inhabitants; this region
lags far behind the world average mobile phone penetration (50) and Europe’s
commanding lead (111).10
Figure 1 dramatizes the dimensions of the global digital divide. It compares the distribution of digital use, defined as the number of Internet and cell
phone users per 100 inhabitants, among four groups of countries: the United
States, the remaining members of the wealthy G7 countries (labeled G6 and
including Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom),
the remaining members of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; numbered at 23), and all other countries combined into the
last category.11 The figure shows the average number of Internet and cell
phone users per 100 inhabitants for the group (marked with a dot) and the
spread between the highest and lowest such number within the category of
countries. Substantively, the figure highlights the leadership of the United
States and the overwhelming dominance of the G7 with regards to the
Internet: although very few developing countries surpass the United States in
Internet penetration, specifically Scandinavian countries among OECD members and Greenland in the group labeled ‘‘the rest,’’ the gap in the average
Internet use across the groups of nations is dramatic. Specifically, whereas the
gap across various members of OECD in the number of Internet users is slight
(ranging between 72.5 per 100 inhabitants in United States, 64.5 for G6 to
62.81 for the remaining members of OECD), the Internet penetration rate in
the remaining countries is dramatically lower (at a mere 19). Yet, with regards
Figure 1
The Global Digital Divide.
to cell phone use, the United States is lagging behind many other nations;
also, average scores of cell phone penetration are lower in groups of nations
further from the global core, whereas cell phone use is rather expansive in the
world’s margins. This confirms that the cell phone is a leap frog digital technology. The difference between Internet and cell phone penetration rates
reveals that the global digital divide is narrowing with regards to some related
technologies, while expanding with regards to others (see ITU ⁄UNCTAD
2007). Overall, these staggering figures translate into a simple abstract conclusion: access to ICT and use of ICT are unevenly distributed.
The uneven distribution of ICT across society is labeled the ‘‘digital
divide,’’ distinguishing between ‘‘digerati’’ and ‘‘have-nots’’ and thus defining
‘‘cyber-classes.’’ Unequal access to ICT is determined by social and physical
barriers, from never having seen a PC to absence of electricity infrastructure
to power a PC. Comparative research reveals that the causes of the global digital divide depend on income or wealth differentials (Chinn and Fairlie 2007;
Kim 2007), the complex array of economic, political, and socio-cultural matters (Guille´n and Sua´rez 2005), and the level of embeddeness in world society
activity (Drori and Jang 2003). The impact of these factors varies over the
course of the process of technology globalization and across the various ICTs
(Dewan, Ganley, and Kraemer 2005). Although the understanding of such
causes assists in devising strategies for alleviating the problem, the importance
of this issue as a social problem comes from its impact: differential access to
ICT leads to unequal acquisition of related skills (e-literacy) and defines
inequality in the types of use of ICT, namely those without the relevant skills
are unable to type commands or to navigate a cursor on a compute screen, let
alone be able to surf the net at the level of sophistication that the digerati are
now accustomed to (see Pietrass 2007). Not surprisingly, such uneven distribution traces social markers: within nations the digital divide follows the lines of
gender, wealth and education, race, and minority designation, whereas between
countries this global digital divide follows the lines of national wealth, literacy, and democracy (Drori 2005). The confluence of digital gap with other
social markers of inequality raises the question how new is this new divide.
While some regard the digital divide to be a combination of new technologies
and old social inequalities, others see it as a more egalitarian form of social
demarcation because it adds meritocratic aspects to the traditional array of
status markers. Kenneth Keniston (2004:17) says of the new Indian cyber-elite
that ‘‘unlike older Indian elites, the privileges of the new digerati are based
not on caste, inherited wealth, family connections or access to traditional rules,
but on a combination of education, brainpower, special entrepreneurial skills,
and the ability to stay on the ‘cutting edge’ of knowledge’’. Regardless of
one’s stand on the issue of newness, the debate still rages about the trajectory
of the gap, revealing ‘‘a trend of growing eqaility over time in the Gini coefficients for several key ICTs’’ (ITU ⁄UNCTAD 2007:25) or evidence of a ‘‘Matthew effect’’ (Drori 2005:144; Guille´n and Sua´rez 2005:697) or a widening of
the global digital divide.
The digital divide is a case of an ‘‘access divide’’—here with regards to
high technology. Once conceived as an access divide, the digital divide
quickly came to be defined as a global social problem (Drori 2004; Ritzer
2004), becoming a rallying call for agencies whose mission is and has been to
alleviate global problems. The most prominent international policy initiatives
to alleviate the problem of the global digital divide are the UN’s Information
Society initiative and the related World Summit on Information Society
(WSIS), which was organized by the UN’s International Telecommunications
Union (ITU). In these fora, tech-optimists gathered under the banner of this
euphemistic title to establish as a mechanism and a collaborative platform for
policy and action on the emerging social problem of the global digital gap.
The WSIS brought two innovations to the UN Summits and to its development
initiatives. First, in the hopes of building accountability into development
agendas, the WSIS was organized in two stages: in 2003 in Switzerland and a
follow-up Summit in 2005 in Tunisia. Second, in realization that the public
sector needs the support of the much wealthier private sector and of the more
localized civil society sector to achieve its ambitious development goals, the
WSIS built a multi-sectoral dialog reflected in the proceedings of the Summits.
The WSIS initiative to close the global digital divide is also captured in the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Target 18, which specifies Goal 8 of
establishing a global partnership on development agenda, outlines that ‘‘in cooperation with the private sector, [the goal is to] make available the benefits of
new technologies, especially information and communications.’’12 This sense of
urgency regarding the global digital divide reflects the way ICT came to define
our era of globalization (Drori 2007). Still, with all the media attention around
the WSIS and for all the promises made by ICT corporate giants to work on
closing the global digital divide, the attention of corporate heads and the leaders
of the strong economies has been drifting toward the race to innovate.
The Global Innovation Divide
Starker than any global divide in access to ICT is the global innovation
divide, which identifies the gap between technology innovators and noninnovators. Innovators create novel technologies and then benefit from both
their use and the royalties of their commercialization; non-inventors are dependent on purchasing the rights of use of any such technology (Sachs 2003).
This global innovation divide differentiates among countries and also
among firms, mostly global in operations. It distinguishes among such global
players, on various scales of innovation and of technology creation. Technology creation worldwide is on a dramatic rise in the past few years: more than
half of the 6.1 million patents in force in 2006 were filed during the period
between 1997 and 2003 (WIPO 2008). Because commercial potential of such
innovation became a powerful economic engine, economies (as well as firms)
are now judged by their innovative capacity and technology ownership stock.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) scales countries along
the technology achievement index, and with the sub-index of technology creation calculated based on patent registration and royalties on patents. It notes
the remarkable innovative capacity of Scandinavian countries, the Asian
Tigers, Belgium, and Israel, along with the ‘‘regulars’’ of United States,
Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. It also distinguishes among four categories of countries: innovation leaders,13 potential
leaders,14 dynamic adopters,15 and marginalized countries (UNDP 2001; see
also Desai et al. 2002), thus marking countries by their relative position in a
world market of technology innovation and commercialization.
The recent wave of ICT innovation and emergence of a global e-economy
pushed technology innovation to new records: the total 727,000 patents
granted across the world in 2006 account for 18.2 percent increase from the
previous year (WIPO 2008). The intensity of economic globalization contributed to the increase in international patent registration, where non-residents
are rushing to protect their intellectual property rights (IPRs) in potential markets or in ‘‘wild’’ IPR zones where enforcement of the Patent Cooperation
Treaty (PCT)16 or of TRIPS17 is still weak.18 This explains the growth rate of
total patent filings by non-residents (+7.6 percent in 2005, over 2004) and the
increase in non-resident patent filings in countries such as China, India,
Mexico, South Korea, and Russia. These trends are particularly noticeable in
the field of electronics, which represented 35 percent of worldwide patent
filings between 2000 and 2005 (WIPO, 2008). Overall, these trends mark a
global surge in innovation.
Still, this surge of innovation, like the wave of digital tools and capacity
that it produces, is accompanied by a widening global innovation gap. Most
patents granted are concentrated in the patent offices of only five leading
economies: granted patents registered in the five largest patent offices (patent
offices of the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and the European Patent Office) accounted for approximately 76.5 percent of the total patent grants
of a total of 727,000 patents granted across the world in 2006 (WIPO 2008).
China is experiencing the most dramatic gains, increasing its share of total
worldwide patent filings from 1.8 to 7.3 percent between 2000 and 2006,
mostly because of increases in domestic patent filings (WIPO 2008), whereas
Japan has experienced a decrease in total patent filings by 6.7 percent between
2000 and 2006 (WIPO 2008). Similar such increases, even if not as dramatic,
are experienced among other emerging market economies, but in most of the
world there is very little, if any, of innovation technology.
Figure 2 demonstrates the extent of the global innovation divide. It shows
the dramatic difference in the number of patents in force per four groups of
countries. Figure 2, set up in a similar format as Figure 1, shows that whereas
Japan leads the world with 1,613,776 patents in force in 2005, with the United
States following with 1,214,556 patents in force, the rest of the world trails
far behind. The national average precipitously drops, with non-OECD countries averaging a mere 1,242.37, mostly accounted by Russia (with 99,819 and
Ukraine with 32,566). Said slightly differently, 22 percent of all patents registered in 2005 were granted to U.S. inventors and additional 46 percent were
granted to inventors from G6 countries, having these seven big economies
accounting for more than 68 percent of all patents registered in 2005.
The importance of these records comes from the economic benefits that
come to owners of the intellectual property registered as patents. Such economic benefits of technological capacity are indicated by revenue (or royalties)
from patents, which directly relate innovation with its commercial value. The
group of countries that benefits from patent royalties is indeed exclusive: only
five countries, namely Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and
United States, receive royalties and license fees in excess of U.S.$100 per capita in 1999. Even South Korea, which ranks fifth in the world on the UNDP’s
technology achievement index, receives royalties and license fees of only
U.S.$9.8 per capita. This means that very few countries reap financial rewards
from their technology creation; this also means further dependence of most
countries on the technology ownership of a few innovation leaders.
This transition from invention (a discovery) to innovation (the commercialized and transformative invention) required several foundational factors,
which together compose the ‘‘national innovation system’’ (NIS; Lundvall
1992; Nelson 1993; Freeman 1995; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2000; Sharif
2006; Marklund, Vonortas, and Wessner 2009). Among such foundational factors of NIS are policy initiatives on innovation and entrepreneurship, human
capital capacity, availability of funding for R&D and alike, thus combining
education, technological, financial, governance, and trade-related matters as
they pertain to innovativeness. With this array of factors now added onto innovation, it is obvious that the cross-national variation in NIS capacity is further
magnified. For example, Atkinson and Andes (2009), scaling 16 such factors
into a single index of innovation-based global competitiveness across 36 countries and 4 world regions,19 show dramatic differences across the world. Specifically, the top nine rankings are given to three Scandinavian countries
(Denmark, Sweden and Finland), two Asian countries (South Korea and
Japan), the United States, and United Kingdom. The findings also reveal
dramatic rates of change over time: China and Singapore far outpace other
countries and regions in change to their rank on innovation-based global
competitiveness. This attention to NIS, rather than solely to technology
Figure 2
The Global Innovation Divide.
creation, affirms the broader social causes of innovation and, with that, the
social causes of the global innovation divide.
Three main factors are commonly cited as causes for the global innovation divide. First is the social geography of innovation: innovation is sparked
in specific clusters that bring together communities of scientists with commercial venues of industry (Bresnahan and Gambardella 2004). Most such global
clusters are also unique in terms of demographics, drawing highly skilled labor
from across the world (Saxenian 1994, 2006). Silicon Valley is noted as the
so-called Mecca of the world’s innovation centers. Although it emerged
innately, nourished by the ‘‘Triple Helix’’ of government contracts, Stanford
University, and surrounding companies, many countries are trying to foster
similar conditions in hope of establishing local technology clusters (Rosenberg
2001; Bresnahan and Gambardella 2004; Kogut 2003). Notable technology
hubs have sprouted worldwide: Silicon Fen (Cambridge, U.K.) and Silicon
Wadi (Jerusalem, Israel) are among the notable examples which are also
named in reference to the ‘‘original,’’ but Brazil, China, and Germany have
the largest national concentration of such centers (Drori and Yue 2009).
Among the 46 top global hubs ranked by the Wired Magazine in 2000, nine
are in Asia, two in South America, and two in Africa (Hillner 2000). Still, as
shown in Figure 2, the United States dominates the global sector of innovation
centers: some 45 percent of the world’s estimated 4,000 innovation centers in
2008 are located in the United States (Drori and Yue 2009), and such component of the NIS is hardly available in any non-OECD country.
The second factor relates to the infrastructure of innovation, which
includes diverse features such as venture funding, legal protections for IPRs,
and human capital investments. Here, the role of government is central, in
establishing the enforcement mechanisms that would incentivize inventors to
operate locally, rather than migrate. Government is responsible for establishing
the educational foundations for highly skilled local labor. Additionally, government funding to seed start-ups, although contrary to the current emphasis
on the importance of private VC, has indeed been the key to the successful
technology innovation and commercialization in Israel and Singapore. Policy
reform of the intellectual policy regime further facilitated the growth in technology innovation and related commercial activity (Borra´s and Kahin 2009;
Elsmore 2009). Countries indeed vary greatly on these various dimensions of
governmental support of both technological literacy and of the R&D process.
In this regard, Israel and Singapore are marked as model cases for the role
government played in spurring a national high-tech sector (see Trajtenberg
2002; Wong and Singh 2008). Specifically, Singapore’s transformation into a
‘‘BioPolis’’ relied heavily on concentrated government initiative and prior
push on education (Parayil 2005); similarly, Israel’s rise as a global hub of
innovativeness relied on heavy governmental investments, though military
R&D and employment strategies, and a subsequent formation of a highly
active venture capital market (Breznitz 2005, 2006; De Fontenay and Carmel
2004). Public sector support played a similarly important role in additional
‘‘latecomer’’ countries (Hu and Mathews 2005). From this perspective, the difference in innovation is rooted in variation—across countries and across historical eras—in the nature and scope of innovation policy (see Lundvall and
Borra´s 2005).
The third factor addresses the cultural foundation of innovation, pointing
to entrepreneurial spirit as an intrinsic cultural trait. Most research on this
topic relies on Geert Hofstede’s cross-cultural studies and assesses the
impact that such socio-cultural disposition has for innovativeness and entrepreneurial spirit. In a meta-analysis of previous research on this issue, Sun
(2009) shows that innovativeness is more prevalent in societies that stress
equality and opportunity to everyone (low power distance, in Hofstede’s terminology), that are more individualistic (rather than collectivist), and where
normative emphasis is put on achievement, control, and power (‘‘masculinity’’ in Hofstede’s terminology; see Hofstede 1980). This issue of culture of
innovation is also raised in other circles: for example, Subroto Bagchi, who
prior to founding the Indian VC firm MindTree Consulting served as VP for
both Lucent Technologies and Wipro, explains the innovation divide in such
cultural terms when explaining India’s lag in the global innovation race by
claiming that ‘‘our middle class is adaptive, not innovative’’ (The Economist
2007:74). Lacking the ‘‘gene’’ for entrepreneurship and creativity, non-innovative societies are imagined as destined to lose in the global race for technology innovation and thus doomed to lose their footing in the global
Intersecting Patterns of Inequality
As much as both these global divides rank countries on their technological capacity, their particular foci—on access and on innovation—create unique
scales for such rankings among countries. In other words, global leadership on
innovation of technology and global leadership on access to technology do not
always coincide. Rather, the intersection of these two inequality scales,
although both are global- and technology-related, reveals a complex set of
relations, made even further complicated by the dearth of accurate data and by
the rapid rate of change in technology globalization. In spite of such inherent
limitations, I propose that the complex relations between digital and innovation divides can be sorted out into several archetypical categories, summarized
in Table 1. The following section explores the patterns of relationship between
both such scales of technology-related global inequality.
Scandinavian countries are the archetypical countries where both access
to technology and innovation of technology are high. Scandinavian countries
are unique in several ways that impact their dual high ranking here: most
obviously, they have strong government involvement in industry and education
and they are socially cohesive (Fagerberg, Mowery, and Verspagen 2009;
Richards 2004). Also in this group are Singapore and Israel, aided partly
by their size,20 as well as United States and Japan, whose sheer magnitude
of innovation is overwhelming and where wealth allows for widespread access
to ICT.
Canada and the United Kingdom are the archetypical countries where
access is high but innovation is relatively low in comparison. Specifically,
Canada’s innovativeness is remarkably low: the number of patents registered
in Canada is about 3 percent of the annual patent registration in Japan and
about one-third of that in France; also, Canada, while bordering the huge U.S.
field of some 2,000 incubators and technology parks, has a mere 35 incubators. At the same time, Canada shares the Digital Access Index (DAI) score of
0.78 on DAI with United States. Similarly, the United Kingdom holds a DAI
score of 0.77, but has only 4 percent of Japan’s registered patents in 2007 and
only 65 incubators. These countries are challenged by both innovativeness and
also entrepreneurship, and in both there are aggressive policy initiatives
towards enterprise (e.g., Della-Giusta and King 2006).
The third group of countries includes those that are high on innovation
but low on access. Typical cases in this group are China and India both challenged by their enormous population which cripples chances for wide access
to ICT yet at the same time both have elite science fields that allow for cutting-edge and world-ranked innovation (see Altenburg, Schmitz, and Stamm
2008). Specifically, China’s DAI score is 0.43; at the same time, China’s innovation, although still relatively low, is rapidly changing: China’s annual patent
registration in 2007 only 20 percent of France’s, yet it ranks first in change in
innovation-based competitiveness between 1999 and 2009, growing by
160 percent on this index scale. India holds a similar DAI score (0.32) and
Table 1
Cross-Cutting Innovation and Access: Exemplar Cases
innovation, although still very low, is rapidly changing. Also in this group,
although not as remarkable, are BRIC countries. Russia, for example, ranks
above average in terms of access (DAI score of 0.50), yet ranks below average
for innovativeness (with annual patents registration being one-third of those in
South Korea and some 6 percent of that in Japan).
Table 2
Bifurcated Image of the Problem of Information and Communication
Technology (ICT) Globalization: Comparing the Global Digital Divide and the
Global Innovation Divide
Notes: a
Operationalized as the number of mentions of the phrases ‘‘global digital
divide,’’ ‘‘digital divide’’ in parentheses, ‘‘global innovation divide,’’ and
‘‘innovation divide,’’ again in parentheses, on January 25, 2009.
With phrase as topic.
In the past 10 years, in major U.S. and world publications.
IP, intellectual property.
The last group is that of countries where both innovation and access are
very low. Typical cases are sub-Saharan African nations, which are plagued
by the ‘‘double whammy’’ effect of poverty, government corruption and the
related weakness of social services, insufficient basis in industry and commerce, and dearth of human capital skills. In these countries there are neither
pull nor push forces for technology.
Overall, although technology access and technology innovation are intertwined dimensions of global inequality, this categorization of the relationship
between these two global divides reveals the complexity of global inequality.
As stated earlier, leadership in one technology scale does not guarantee high
achievement on the other; various countries have different capacities of access
as they do of innovation. In addition, although both distributions are heavily
skewed, access scales are more normally distributed than innovation scales.
Still, this categorization allows for further examination of the social causes of
global technology-based divides, as it points to certain national-level capacities
(such as government intervention, industrial basis, and, most importantly,
human capital capacity) as being core to achievements on either scale. These
discussions of possible causes of the global innovation divide have not swelled
into a research tradition and little has come in the form of policy. This is the
most obvious distinction between the global innovation divide and the global
digital divide. The following section describes some of the initiatives taken to
alleviate the two global technology-related divides.
Identifying Causes, Setting Policies
Policy initiatives to address the global technology-related divides trace
the current understanding of causes for such divides, with programs tailored to
addresses the specific sources of each divide. With the global digital divide
attributed to barriers of supply (affordability of ICT for poor nations and people) and demand (low e-literacy), policies to bridge the global digital divide
are designed around technology aid. Specifically, ITU describes the goal of
achieving equitable communication for everyone as hinging on three main
features of the technology: (1) accessibility (user-friendliness), (2) availability
(handiness and propinquity), and (3) affordability (reasonably priced).21 To
date, initiatives to close the global digital divide have hit on at least one
such goal, if not on all. Many programs are designed to transfer technology to
the ICT have-nots, mostly at low or no cost, thus targeting availability and
affordability. Such technology aid initiatives, which are designed to close the
gap in access to ICT, range from providing mobile phones and computers to
rural and poor clients to sponsoring e-library connectivity to universities in
developing countries. Other initiatives target the socio-cultural barrier to technology diffusion, therefore offering an answer to challenges of accessibility.
One such initiative is that of the Simputer, a hand-held yet most powerful
computer operating with images and by touch. Even if long in the making, the
Simputer’s by-passing of basic literacy issues is designed to make digital technology user-friendly in rural Indian.22 Seeing the complexity of the demands,
the UN’s WSIS and MDG initiatives are designed to build into their tools all
features of success.
The closing of the global innovation divide is understood to be obviously
dependent on these basic conditions of ICT access and e-literacy, but it is also
addressed with several targeted policies. The first set of policies is designed to
foster communities of innovation by establishing clusters of technology creation and commercialization. Governments, local and regional, heavily invest in
creating innovation centers: for example, all of Israel’s current 23 innovation
centers were initially funded by Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist at the
Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, even if several have been privatized
successfully since then. The second set of policies is designed to create the
required infrastructural conditions. Included in these initiatives are governance
reform initiatives, which focus on creating proper legal codes and enforcement
mechanisms to protect IPRs and thus to maintain the incentive structure for
technology innovation. Currently, loose IP protection across national lines
explain the dominance of three countries in patent registration: United States,
Japan, and Germany account for 57 percent of worldwide patent filings by
non-residents, who are seeking protection for their IP in these markets where
IP enforcement is guaranteed. With more countries joining the small group of
technology innovators,23 the circle of countries that have a stake in the tightening of a global IP regime and a corresponding expansion of a rationalized
legal system in general is growing too. Still, the IP regime is predicated on
the tenuous balance between monopoly and disclosure and also between protection as incentive and right to access (see Granstrand 2005). No patenting
policy to date, in spite of heated debates and recent reforms (see Borra´s and
Kahin 2009; Smith, Correa, and Oh 2009), fully resolves these tensions. Third
and most complex is the policy challenge of addressing the cultural roots of
technology innovation. The relations between creativity and innovation are
complex and understudied (Westwood and Low 2003); in addition, the effects
of societal norms on innovation or related entrepreneurial drive, although
overall significant, are complex.24 As a policy matter, the challenge centers
on how to train or educate for entrepreneurship and creativity. Here, Singapore
is proposing a new path, with an aggressive art education initiative. Assuming
that creativity can be fostered through art appreciation studies and training in
the expressive arts and assuming that such art-induced creativity can be later
translated into creativity in technology and business, Singapore’s government
has been directing funds to art education curricula since 2000. With this
‘‘social experiment’’ in art studies, Singapore is hoping to close the global
innovation divide, to match its global lead in economic competitiveness and
science education with a future global top rank on technology innovative.
Comparing Global Technology Divides
This education strategy highlights one common feature between the global digital divide and the global innovation divide, namely the importance of
knowledge and skills, which are gained through education. Both these global
technology-related divides are conceived as rooted in literacy gaps—recently
titled ‘‘the global knowledge divide’’—and therefore a complimentary set of
policy initiatives targets education, with UNESCO serving as the key agency
for many such initiatives. E-literacy is only one among many education programs: whereas e-literacy targets people who had no access to ICT, other education programs target students in secondary and tertiary education (to foster
science and math literacy in general) and ICT professionals (to foster skills
specific to the ICT sector). With that, students are trained in the relevant
fields, thus creating a national cadre of skilled labor to service the growing
demand for ICT. With science, math, and technology education being seen as
the foundations for a prosperous economy, countries compare themselves with
other nations on science and technology literacy, on scales similar to the
aforementioned indexes of technology capacity and achievement. Therefore,
results from TIMSS25 testing in science and math, which repeatedly rank
13-year-old students in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and
Japan far ahead of students in other countries, confirm fears of the perpetuation of global technology divides.
On all issues additional to their foundation in education gaps, current
discussions of the global digital divide and the global innovation divide are
completely separate from each other: attention is split between concern for the
impeded access of the poor to ICT, on the one hand, and the race to lead the
world in creating the next ‘‘hot’’ technology, on the other. Although both
concerns carry similarly phrased titles—namely, the ‘‘global digital divide’’
and the ‘‘global innovation divide’’—they diverge on other matters, as summarized in Table 2.
First and foremost, the two global technology-related divides differ in
their definition of what about technology’s global diffusion is of essence.
As noted in preceding discussions, the global digital divide is defined as a
worldwide gap in access and use of ICT, whereas the global innovation divide
is defined as a worldwide gap in creation of, and thus ownership of rights to,
technology. In this way, the two divides differ in what they regard as the
essence, or root, of global inequality: access and use versus creation and ownership. As a result, the two global technology-related divides are constructed
as focusing on opposing populations: even if both discussions set prosperity
and justice as their ultimate goals, the global digital divide is framed as a matter of lagging in technology adoption and thus as a worry about poor and marginalized countries, whereas the global innovation divide is framed as a matter
of global competitiveness and thus as a concern about world leadership. Last,
this bifurcated image of the two divides is further perpetuated by the discursive nature of the policy discussions related to this issue: matters of the ‘‘global digital divide’’ are discussed within the framework of aid and poverty
alleviation where technology transfer is often the sensible policy solution,
whereas issues pertaining to the ‘‘global innovation divide’’ are framed within
the policy domain of trade, regulation of IP, and economic incentive strategies. Overall, then, the two divides diverge in their image of technology, of
social inequality, and are thus immersed in separate discourses.
The most dramatic difference between these two global technologyrelated divides is the amount of attention they have received. In a simple exercise to measure the volume of discussions on these two global divides, I note
in Table 1 the staggering difference in the number of mentions of the
key phrases in scholarly and news publications. These numbers reveal an
overwhelming imbalance in public discussions of the two global divides: the
global digital divide is widely discussed, whereas there are very few
references to the global innovation divide.
I take this gap in the volume of discussion as evidence of the diverging
construction of these two issues as global social problems (see Ritzer 2004):
the issue of the global digital divide is accepted as a legitimate global social
problem (Drori 2004), whereas the global innovation divide has not been successfully constructed as such. Even if the issue of global social problem of the
digital divide is widely used interchangeably with the recalled translate, the
optimistic title of ‘‘information society,’’ a sense of crisis (hence, a problem)
permeates all these discussions.
The difference in the extent of constructing the two global technologyrelated divides as social problems impacted the consolidation of policy and
the rallying of social action on these issues, as the articulation of global
inequalities as social conditions remedied by policy (what sociologists refer to
as the definition of these divides as a social problem) set a challenge before
policy-makers to form bridges across such global divides. Yet, although the
challenge of global digital divide was met with determined international
action, most notably by the UN in its two WSIS gatherings and the continuous
pressing on Target 18 of the 8th MDG, to date the global innovation divide
has not been the target of such action. Overall, therefore, the two global technology-related divides are structured as relying on two separate policy tracks,
targeting the world’s laggards and leaders as separate entities and operating
under separate logics. In the following section I describe the policy initiatives
that target the alleviation of these global technology-related divides and argue
that the bifurcation of the field of technology diffusion into two distinct social
problems harms the closing of both global gaps.
Bifurcation as a Challenge for Policy
Although both global technology-related divides address a specific set of
technologies, namely ICT, the bifurcated image of the field creates a serious
challenge for policy-making. Operationally, this separates, rather than unites,
the power of international organizations and creates false competitive tensions
among them. It also splits their policies, initiatives, and funding campaigns
and thus weakens their impact. Conceptually, this bifurcation of technology
globalization demarks technology access from technology achievement, or use
from innovation, constructing a gulf between high and low technologies and
between the needs of developed and developing countries. It evokes the antiquated development agenda, which distinguished civilized from savage and
prescribed distinct policies for each. With that, the globalization of ICT is
guided by two sets of policy logics, rather than by a unified image of how
ICT may serve human development.
One set of advanced technologies has avoided this bifurcation: the globalization of medications, in particular of life-saving medications, is seen as a
junction point between an access divide and an innovation ⁄ ownership divide
(see Smith, Correa, and Oh 2009). On the access side, it is clear that lifesaving medications are needed where people are suffering from life-threatening diseases. Some such diseases require medications that are readily available: for example, yellow fever, which accounted for 200,000 ill and 30,000
dead per year in the world’s tropical areas of Africa and South America, is
easily treated with rehydration salts and paracetamol and is prevented with
vaccination. On the innovation ⁄ ownership side, pharmaceutical companies,
mostly located in developed nations, are guarding their licensing of such medications with the intent of recovering their investment in the lengthy and risky
R&D process that resulted in bringing such medications to market. The capacity to produce the medications is available in developing nations, but the lion
share of the production cost is because of licensing fees for the related intellectual property. Thailand, for example, has some 200 private medication factories and locally produced medications have 50–60 percent of the market
share, leaving the remaining share to imports. India, China, and Brazil have
substantially bigger pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities for medication;
and, they have taken advantage of this capacity in challenging the current global regime of IPRs. To address the dilemma of access versus ownership, these
three ‘‘emerging markets’’ challenged the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement by using
its ‘‘national emergency’’ clause to manufacture medications locally without
paying licensing or royalty fees: as Article 8 of the TRIPS Agreement allows
WTO members to ‘‘adopt measures necessary to protect public health and
nutrition’’ in their countries, these countries declared several diseases as creating a national crisis so as to produce a generic form of these medications
cheaply by by-passing TRIPS’ compulsory licensing requirements. The ensuing debate in WTO regarding the national emergency clause of TRIPS and the
Indian, Brazilian, and South African manufacturing of generic medications,
accentuated the dilemma between access and ownership and brought the topic
into public debate. The ‘‘loophole’’ in TRIPS was somewhat tightened in several rounds of international discussions since, but the obvious tension, or weak
balance, between the interests of the ill but poor, on the one hand, and of the
inventors and patent owners, on the other, are still unresolved.26 Still, in such
(heated) discussions, the facts are clearly recognizable: with regards to medications, the global access divide is intertwined with the global innovation
divide. This realization has not been achieved with regard to the globalization
of ICT.
Why are policy discussions of ICT diffusion bifurcated between access
and innovation whereas with regard to medications access and innovation are
intertwined? This comparison across technological fields suggests that the presumably inherent tension between access and innovation differs across sectors:
ICT (where policies are bifurcated) versus medications (where policy discussions confront the tension). One possible explanation draws from the differing
moral and ethical implications of uneven distribution of each such technology:
although barriers to the diffusion of ICT retard development, the implication
of limited access is literally death. The difference between the policy discussions, therefore, reflects the difference in the sense of urgency to resolve the
tension between ownership and access. Second explanation, building on this
one, is more political in nature: social mobilization on the issue of
access⁄ ownership of medications builds upon this sense of urgency and on the
moral and ethical implications and is thus more vocal, explicit, and unambiguous, and to date more effective than on the issue of ICT access⁄ ownership. A
third possible explanation builds on current studies of governance of IP across
sectors. Preliminary studies of the IP regime across sectors confirm the specificity of IP governance per sector, revealing differences in effectiveness and
enforceability of these proprietary rights (Elsmore 2009). Moreover, because
the American IP system, where IP law is predicated upon sector specificity,
serves as the model for recent reforms of IR systems worldwide (Borra´s and
Kahin 2009), this duality between medications and ICT is currently diffusing
and is reinforced. These proposed explanations, drawing attention to the technologies themselves, to the political use of discourse about the technologies
and to the political economy of the related sectors are only suggestive. Still,
these can serve as venues for future research on the bifurcated nature of
technology-related policy.
In summary, the interconnection between these issues of access and ownership has become the underpinning of current debates surrounding medications. It is appropriate that policy-makers—and scholars—weave notions of
access and ownership also as a guide for policy-making with regard to the
globalization of other technologies, in particular the globalization of ICT. Currently, discussions of ICT globalization pose ownership and access as competing logics, with technology creation and equitable diffusion of technology as
competing interests and competing policy priorities.
This dilemma, about the priorities related to technology creation and diffusion, is at the center of policy discussions in many international organizations, with several specific gadgets becoming ‘‘lightening rods’’ for such
debates. For example, the OLPC laptop, standing for ‘‘One Laptop Per Child’’
and commonly referred to as the ‘‘100 dollar laptop,’’ is hailed as the affordable computer whose software is designed to be easily localized. It was
unveiled at the 2005 WSIS by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT’s Media Lab and OLPC’s Chairperson,
and in 2006 it won the support of the World Economic Forum and the UNDP.
But while OLPC is intended to be sold to governments, which will later distribute them to schools and community centers, and while several developing
nations and American states proclaimed their wish to enroll in this initiative,
to date only Peru and Uruguay have committed to purchasing it.27 As much as
OLPC is designed with care for its usability and impact, it still falls short of
its intended goals.
Specifically, OLPC is criticized for its cost (currently at U.S.$199),
dependence on expensive batteries or access to electricity, and the cost being
exclusive of the expenses of e-literacy workshops for teachers and users.
Additional criticism comes from considering the alternatives to OLPC, thus
directly engaging the dilemma of regarding technology aid priorities. In a
debate on this exact issue, John Wood, the founder of Room to Read and a
former Microsoft executive, argued that building community access, rather
than encouraging individual access, is both more cost-effective and more
respective of local customs. In place of individual laptops, technology aid initiatives should focus on building computer labs, for schools and communities.
He also argued that most communities in developing countries would benefit
more directly from ‘‘low-tech’’ libraries or from schools than from high-technology gadgets which anyhow are too low-tech to truly close to the digital
divide. Emphasizing affordability and scalability, Wood explained that the
U.S.$2,000 spent on a library that serves 400 children, costing just U.S.$5 per
child, surely outweigh that of OLPC.28 With OLPC compromising digital
capability for the sake of cost, this technology aid initiative is seen by many
as a form of ‘‘technology dumping,’’ providing only outmoded and thus irrelevant technology. This tale of a remarkably well-intentioned technology aid
initiative being so fiercely criticized is confusing policy-makers.
Concluding Comments: On the Construction of ICT as a Solution
to Social Problems
‘‘Development in the network age without the Internet is like industrialization without electricity,’’ says Manuel Castells in his commentary on the
information age (Desai et al. 2002:95). With rapid technological advances
driving a historic shift from the industrial to the network age, ICT is seen as
a social imperative. Consequently, any gaps in ICT-related capacity—from
access and use to innovation and ownership—become a cause for public concern. Yet, as described in this article, concerns with the global diffusion of
ICT are split between concerns of access and of innovation: concerns of
access to ICT are encapsulated in conversations of the ‘‘global digital divide,’’
which are very vigorous in the global arena, whereas concerns with innovation
and thus ownership of ICT are encapsulated in the much less public or vocal
conversation on the ‘‘global innovation divide.’’ Whereas both technologyrelated divides essentially address the uneven global distribution of ICT,
between and within countries, the two conversations are kept independent of
each other, also resulting in two distinct policy paths.
Current policy on the globalization of ICT is therefore bifurcated: policy
is challenged by the tension between issues of access, on the one hand, and
issues of innovation and thus ownership, on the other hand. The bifurcation
of ICT-related policy assumes the incommensurability of the social goals. As
I point out, this notion of competition among the goals of access and innovation is not only socially constructed as irresolvable, but it may very well also
be sector-specific: tenuous relations between access and ownership of technology are at the center of current policy discussions on medications, whereas
essentially similar tenuous relations with regard to ICT have resulted in bifurcated policy field. This cross-sector comparison and analysis of policy bifurcation have a direct implication for policy-making. In charting policies to
guide the globalization of ICT, policy-makers and social activists need to
look at the debates over medications to create an integrated, rather than a
bifurcated, path toward development of a parallel policy regarding the global
diffusion of ICT.
Another guideline for future policy that is derived from these findings is
with regard to setting priorities for ICT-related policy: seeing the four distinct
clusters of countries and the archetypical countries in each such cluster, which
of these paths is a model to be emulated? What priorities should policymakers assign to the social goals of access and of innovation and are these
goals mutually exclusive desiderata? Some policy paths are risky: the mobility
of labor and capital makes it a risky venture for governments to be aggressive
in reforming their IP regime in favor of the goal of greater access. Yet other
policy tracks seem to carry no, or little, risk: investment in upgrading of
human capital, through general education or specifically education in IT fields,
has been at the heart of India’s and Israel’s remarkable advances and would
give any country flexibility in adjusting to global changes. These decisions are
particularly crucial for poor countries and current policy discussions do little
to help the governments of these countries navigate through the challenges of
duality of ICT-related social goals.
The implications for scholarship are different in tone. First, at the level
of empirical analysis, further research is due on investigating the social
causes and social implications of ICT-related divides, both within and
between countries. To date, the focus on the ‘‘global digital divide’’ yielded
several studies that analyze its various social causes (see Drori and Jang
2003; Guille´n and Sua´rez 2005). Yet, the silence on the issue of the ‘‘global innovation divide’’ resulted in limited sociological studies of the social
causes of global gaps in innovation. The review here suggests several social
causes, from culture, the nature of the regulatory regime, the degree of
state intervention, and obviously variations in capacity of various human
skills and material resources. Analysis of such causes, as well as research
into the trajectories and implications of these ITC-related global divides,
will provide further understanding of the dynamics of globalization and
inequality: studying whether the trajectories of the divides are widening or
shrinking, what paths have ICT-related policies taken, and how has ICT diffusion impacted other dimensions of global inequality (in trade, literacy,
security, or democratization).
A second track for future research may confront the mythology that is at
the root of discussions of ICT globalization and of the digital and innovation
divides. In asking ‘‘why is technology constructed as the panacea for
economic development and for social progress?’’ and ‘‘which particular
technology comes to be conceived as the key to human progress?’’ such
research will problematize the discursive connection between technology and
progress, thus adding a constructivist perspective to current sociological
studies of globalization and inequality (e.g., Suter 2009 and related articles).
From this perspective, the allure of ICT and of their promise to development
is the core inducement behind international ICT initiatives and also fuels the
fixation on both the digital and innovation divides as pressing global social
problems. This image of technology in general as a solution to poverty and
other social ailments is made clear in the focus on policy initiatives on opportunity: ICT is so firmly anchored in a discourse of breakthrough and progress
that ITU and WSIS, the leading international organizations to champion the
information society initiatives, rely in their analysis on the composite index
ICT-OI, namely ICT-Opportunity Index (ITU ⁄UNCTAD 2007). But while
such ICT initiatives encouraged technology transfer and aid campaigns, which
provide ICT to developing countries with low or no cost, not all technologies
receive the same attention. Clearly, here, high technology captures the imagination of policy-makers more than any of the ‘‘old’’ technologies. For example, there are more phone connections on the island of Manhattan than in all
sub-Saharan countries combined; and, there are more cars in Manhattan than
in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, as Linda Main argues, ‘‘no-one is suggesting
sending more automobiles to Africa’’ (UNDP 2001:94). The criteria for deciding which technology is to be made available globally are clear to all: technology should make a positive impact on humans and nature, by encouraging
progress without harm or injustice. But which are the technologies that fulfill
these criteria remains uncertain.
*Please direct correspondence to Gili S. Drori, International Relations Program, Stanford
University, 216 Encina Hall West, Stanford, CA 94305-6045, USA; e-mail: [email protected] 1
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