By Floyd Levi
OVER the many weeks since this series of articles on the good life has been published, readers have been given various perspectives centred on how the good life can be facilitated through multi-sectoral approaches.
As promised, we will also explore how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can lead to the good life for all Guyanese. It must be noted that, at a conceptual level, the good life essentially refers to the kind of life an individual would like to live (that is acceptable by society as a whole). Within this construct, the good life will mean different things to different people. For adolescents, the good life may mean being in constant close contact with friends; for entrepreneurs, the good life could be about increasing productivity and the utilization of available resources to expand businesses; for millennials and others who thrive on being in the know, ready access to information may characterize the good life.
Preservation of cultural identity and spiritual growth may also signify the good life for those who seek a higher purpose.
In each of these examples, and in many other scenarios, using ICTs to connect digitally is an excellent pathway to achieving the good life.
So what does it mean to connect digitally? Simply put, it means using digital platforms such as the Internet and other enabling ICTs to reach out to groups or individuals for specific purposes.
Many of us may remember the bygone years when interacting with people far away meant exchanging letters, with lengthy delays in between. In those days, if there were urgent matters to attend to, citizens who had access to technology had the option of making expensive long distance phone calls, or even sending a short telegram.
Like people everywhere, most Guyanese are now quite aware that the Internet, computers and smart phones afford us almost instantaneous global communication. Ubiquitous and “always on”, digital connections not only provide for real time communication within social groups, but also between employers and employees, businesses and customers, teachers and students.
Access to these digital technologies helps to significantly improve the quality of life of all citizens by allowing them to earn a living; attend to their social needs; and, very importantly, interact with their Government.
Connecting digitally in modern society is of such importance that it is acknowledged by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a basic human right “which enables individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression”.
Developmental experts have also championed the widespread use of the Internet for small states like Guyana, because of its importance to individual and national prosperity, economic growth, productivity, and social inclusion.
Recognising that many Guyanese still aspire to the digital good life, the questions therefore are: what hindrances are preventing our citizens from connecting digitally? And what role can Government play to ensure that they may enjoy the good life?
Within Guyana, Internet access is not the same across all sections of the populace. This is mainly because ICT services are provided by private companies that are focused on profit margins. Factors such as a community’s location, size, and socio-economic status are generally used by telecommunications service providers to determine whether a sound business case can be made for delivering Internet and telephone services to particular communities. Consequently, the deployment of Information and Communications Technologies is focused mainly in the large population centres along the coast and in the profitable mining districts scattered throughout the interior.
Excluded from this digital good life, where Internet and ICTs are readily available and at reasonable cost, are hundreds of poor remote and hinterland communities. Typifying this digital divide are indigenous communities such as Masakenari in South Rupununi, Kabakaburi in the Pomeroon, and farming communities like Mara and Lighttown along the East Bank of the Berbice River.
It is generally accepted that, as part of the social contract, Governments have an obligation to guarantee the basic human rights of their citizens. Within this construct, one may justifiably argue that since the private sector has failed to deliver affordable Internet to a sizeable portion of the population, Government owes disenfranchised citizens a duty of care, and therefore has a responsibility to ensure that the means to connect digitally are readily available.
This position is supported by eminent UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue, who posits that “the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress; [and that] ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states”.
Of necessity, Government’s vision of the good life for all Guyanese must take into account the urgent need for bridging the digital divide by fostering an enabling environment where Internet access and ICTs can be extended to poor, remote and hinterland communities.
Please send comments and questions to email@example.com
(Floyd Levi is the Head of the eGovernment Agency. He is also currently conducting PhD research on “The influence of Social Exclusion on Transnational Organized Crimes in Guyana.”
Reposted from the Guyana Chronicle