Sunday, April 03, 2005

The "digital gap" in Israel

From an article in the Israeli business press (Globes [online] - Get digital) which illustrates how what we call the "digital divide" is conceptualized by corporate advocates in other countries:

The added value of information industries is based primarily on high-quality workers, not raw materials or energy. In order to highlight how this revolution can be utilized for our benefit, I will cite two figures. The average output of an Israeli worker in conventional industry is $25,000 per year, while the average output of a information industry worker can reach $200,000 a year, or even $1 million a year (in the microelectronic industry).

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough of these workers, and we aren’t doing enough to create them more quickly. Countries like China and India produce a million software personnel and electronics engineers per year; we produce just a few thousand. This fact alone is opening a huge gap between us. If that is not enough, consider the following fact Israel currently has 600,000 children living below the poverty level. The vast majority of these children have no access to a computer or the Internet. In the top income decile, 75% of homes have a computer, and Internet access reaches 90%, compared with only 3% in the bottom decile. That is what the digital gap means.

There is an enormous difference between children who have learned to use a computer and surf the Internet in third grade, and those who reach this stage only in seventh grade. In contrast to a social and economic gap, which can closed, this digital gap cannot be closed. If we do not teach our children how to use modern technology, they will be lost to the information industry. They will have difficulty finding suitable employment with a proper salary, and will be doomed to remain in the poverty cycle. If, on the other hand, we make 400,000 poor children into future workers in the high-tech industry, instead of simple industrial workers, our GDP will leap 50%. Instead of per capital GDP of $16,000-17,000, we will reach $25,000, like the advanced countries.

Pretty fallacious logic there at the end, I'd argue ... but representative of the globally-circulating utopian arguments about the potential to magically create super-productive workers (and firms, and economies) through single-minded investment in IT infrastructure, training, and investment.

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