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Before it gets cold …

I just attended the Diplo webinar Social Media and Diplomacy - the new normal. I’m interested to hear other people’s ideas on two of the issues that came up.

The first is that the speaker, Pete Cranston, suggested that the digital divide is being obliterated – or at least that is my understanding of what was said. While that may be true of the “elite” – his term – and so of the lateral divide, it seems to me that the divide still exists, and may be getting deeper, hierarchically, between (in this case) the diplomats, and the citizens on whose behalf the diplomacy is being carried out. Or is that statement in itself very naïve of me?

The second is that the social media tools are the tools of a networked world and the networked world is global. Surely, then, if competence in the use of these tools is considered to be essential, it must be recognised that the tools are the tools of a global context. An ocean-going yacht has considerable drawbacks as a tool if you intend never to leave the harbour.

Please help me clarify my thoughts.

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Comment by Deirdre Williams on February 25, 2013 at 2:28pm

Hello Pete.

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. 

I've just finished attending (remotely) the first morning session of the WSIS + 10 review meeting, currently going on in Paris. It left me with the question - Is the world of the 21st century a world predicated on technology and the bottom line in which human development is also important, or is it a world predicated on human development which uses technology as one means of achieving that development?

You write - " I was talking about what used to be called the Digital Divide, meaning the gap between developing countries and the richer world in terms of their connectivity to the Internet, has disappeared. ... there is no longer a 'North/South' digital divide" I disagree. Not only do I disagree, but I would go so far as to say that your statement alarms and distresses me in so far as it might serve to diminish or distract attention from a continuing serious problem. Until the rural electrification problems of the developing world are solved, the digital divide will continue. Until the language needs of the developing world are met, the digital divide will continue.

My second point - well, let me try to be clearer. Communication over the Internet is global communication, like it or not. So yes, I agree, it comes down to competencies. But the tool you are using is the ocean-going yacht. It's up to the user to be aware of the real size and scope of the tool being used, and to accommodate his/her behaviour to manage that reality.

Comment by pete cranston on February 12, 2013 at 4:11pm

Deirdre, interesting thoughts. On your first question, I was talking about what used to be called the Digital Divide, meaning the gap between developing countries and the richer world in terms of their connectivity to the Internet, has disappeared. There are many divides, and indeed are very wide between elites in all countries and those who have less money, or education or power. But there is no longer a 'North/South' digital divide which has implications for how MFAs plan their work globally, I believe. But the spread of mobile phones, the links between SMS and web services, the use of simply SMS based network tools like 'WhatsApp' mean that fewer and fewer people remain untouched by digital technology and the media which play within it. 

I am afraid I don't quite get your second point. But maybe the example that I use Twitter and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family, for local (Oxford, UK) campaigning and global communication and campaigning gives an answer. It's not so much a yacht as a competency for using boats. I can row, sail a little, and could be taught the skills to scale up to an ocean going yacht. I am arguing for the competency to survive and thrive in the networked world, which means being comfortable at all levels, and able to operate effectively between local and global. And what is new is that I can engage directly in those levels, without having to go through an intermediary.  



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