The personal computer is, perhaps, one of the greatest inventions of mankind. What used to require a room full of large machines has since given way to miniaturized systems that pack more power and take up a fraction of your floor space. The PC has also become more affordable, and democratized computing in one way or another.
But not in the developing world.
For rural dwellers in India and other parts of Asia and Africa, owning a PC is still way too expensive. Many people in these countries do not even see the relevance of the PC in their lives, especially when they are still grappling with issues such as access to clean water, healthcare and education.
I once read an article which noted that some Indian farmers, despite having an "information center" stocked with PCs connected to the Internet, are still relying on word of mouth to gather information about how much their produce can fetch in the market. Apparently, some guy would ironically sit at the PC terminal, retrieve the prices from the Internet and broadcast them to the rural community using a loudspeaker!
Perhaps, what is more relevant to these so-called "technology haves-not" is the cellphone, which is cheaper and easier to use. In fact, both India and China are already among the world's fastest growing cellphone markets.
No doubt, when given a choice and money is no object, they would choose the PC, which oozes more computing power than the cellphone. But that's built upon the premise that they have a certain level of literacy and that their basic needs are met, before they seek to empower themselves further with a PC.
While I applaud projects like the US$100 laptop initiative to bridge the "digital divide", which some say is an altruistic term coined by technologists to make more money, a successful Doha Round and Unicef programs are far more beneficial to the developing world.