Disconnected: Haves and Have-nots in the Information Age
Author: William Wresch
Publisher: Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996
Review Published: April 2002
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to John Daly's review of my book. I am pleased that he had kind things to say about my work, but more pleased that he made such forceful statements about the need for improvement in international information systems and greater awareness of our current situation. Those of us who wake up every morning to CNN, a morning newspaper, a desk full of books, countless Web sites, and endless email may have trouble seeing how there could possibly be shortages in information for us or for anyone else on the planet, but the problem is no less real for our difficulty in seeing it. Daly keeps his attention on information rather than technology, and that is the key point.
The book is now nearly six years old, and it is funny how much has changed and how little is different. When I was teaching computer science at the University of Namibia in 1993-94, I helped get the university connected to the Internet, and we were excited about being able to get email twice a day through a dial-up connection in Pretoria. Now the University of Namibia has Web sites for most departments and email access is 24/7. I can sit in my university office in Wisconsin and read the daily paper of Namibia -- The Namibian. The latest UN Human Development Report (available online at www.undp.org/hdro) describes the progress being made around the world and asserts that the developing world is now catching up to the richer nations in areas such as telephone access, Internet links, and schooling. Without question information technology is making more information available in more places.
But we need to be a bit cautious about celebrating our technology and assuming every problem is now solved. While I can now email the University of Namibia, it is still nearly impossible for me to find a Namibian book. By one count, 99% of the books in the University of Namibia library are written by foreign authors. Do Namibians really have no ideas to pass along to their children? While I can read The Namibian on-line, that is no thanks to the Namibian government which has been harassing the newspaper for years because it dares to print stories about official corruption. How much more information would come over the Internet if that country (or any country) had a truly free press?
The ultimate point of my book is that I consider myself an information "have-not." Technology improvements have been dramatic in the last twenty years, and most of us have seen huge changes just in the last five years. Technology can and does make it easier to move information and even to gather and publish it. But technology does not guarantee that information will be produced in significant quantities around the world or that the information produced won't be government propaganda or racist hatred. There is still too much I cannot know. My book tried to briefly describe some of the barriers that I have been able to find. John Daly highlights other areas and additional needs. Hopefully readers of my book and his review will recognize these barriers and help begin the process of improving the quality and quantity of information available to us all.
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