Cell Phones Help Narrow Digital Divide

Increased computer usage and better e-mail and Web access may narrow the digital divide, although globalization critics may perceive such changes as a threat to local cultures and economies, a new Pew Research Center study suggests.

The globalization survey released last week by Pew Research Center said that while technology inequality between countries has lessened, an ongoing backlash threatens globalization.

Technology plays a key role in the larger concept of globalization, said Richard Wike, senior researcher with the Pew Global Attitudes Project, part of the Pew Research Center, based in Washington, D.C. Computers and cell phones bring help people to connect people across borders and nurture better economic integration, Wike said.

People believe free trade and free markets are good for their countries, the survey said, but it also noted that globalization has its economic, environmental and cultural downsides. For example, people in the U.S. and Western Europe are growing less supportive of global trade, while those in China and India approved it more as their economies grew, the survey said.

Technology plays a role in the economic integration that comes with globalization, Wike said. "Usage of technology seems to be part of globalization. It's part of a bigger picture," Wike said.

In 2007, computer usage increased in 26 of the 35 countries surveyed, compared to 2002, with better access to e-mail and the Internet, according to the survey. Sweden topped the list with 82 percent of its population using computers, followed by South Korea and the U.S., at 81 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Pakistan, Tanzania and Bangladesh had the least computer usage, at 9 percent, 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

The data includes computer usage at work, school, home and other places.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada, computer usage in the poor parts of Asia and Africa grew slowly, Usage jumped in Latin America, especially Brazil, where 44 percent of the population used computers, compared to 22 percent in 2002, Wike said.

Increased computer usage has led to better Internet and e-mail access globally, the survey said. About 80 percent of South Koreans, 79 percent of Swedes and 78 percent of the U.S. population go online occasionally. Newspapers continue to lose readers as online news sources gain more readers globally, the survey said.

Computer ownership is growing too, with 93 percent of South Koreans, 84 percent of Kuwaitis and 81 percent of Swedes owning a computer. The survey said 76 percent of the U.S. population owned a computer, compared to 70 percent in 2002. Overall, computer ownership grew in 32 of 34 countries surveyed in 2007 compared to 2002.

Cell phone ownership showed a dramatic increase globally, Wike said. In 2007, 81 percent of the U.S. population owned a cell phone, a 20 percent increase compared to 2002. Russia and Nigeria saw dramatic 57 percent and 56 percent increases, respectively, in cell phone ownership in 2007 compared to 2002.

The survey looked at the global spread of technology and feelings about the multiple interpretations of globalization, including perceived threats to cultures, along with other issues, Wike said. While technology fills global communications gaps and helps integrate economies, some people worry about losing their cultures, and although they embrace free markets, they don't want economic growth at the expense of the environment, Wike said.

How much technology contributes to the backlash against globalization "is a good question to ask," Wike said.

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