Technical literacy divides a nation

The Web threatens to divide people into two classes according to IDC's director of European Services Industry Research. And we're already beginning to see it.

Speaking today from the tiny principality of Monaco where research firm IDC is holding its annual e-commerce forum, Puni Rajah said countries that fail to recognise the growing importance of the electronic communications revolution risk placing their economies at risk.

She added that people living in areas where the Internet remains a novelty could form part of a new sub-class, effectively compounding their technologically retarded environments.

Citing an article by Umberto Eco from 1997, Rajah said concerns over a sub-strata of people who are unable to intelligently use electronic communications are looking more like a reality: "Already we have a situation where people familiar with the Internet are able to start a bid for, say travel tickets, and by doing so save themselves money. It's simplistic but it shows a real advantage."

Being left out of the communications revolution threatens entire populations. Rajah believes countries that fail to act to address educational demands for electronic communications do so at their people's peril. She said there is a very real danger that ordinary literacy could find a parallel in technical literacy. "So those who are not (technically) literate, would get caught up in a situation where they are jobless or in low value jobs. It becomes self-perpetuating."

Arguing that such instances have traditionally been defined by access to materials, Rajah explained that in two generations there will exist a class of people who have the "ultimate in personal freedom in that they can turn off and on their earning potential, due to their communications skills. Those who do not understand will be the segmented user."

Those at the top of the spectrum will, for example, use the Internet to order a coke. The segmented user will be the one who uses the Internet to pick up that order and deliver the coke. "If we're not careful we are going to create a people who are going to be limited their possibilities simply because they haven't been given the time or the opportunity to acquire the mental agility to explore it."