It might have different definitions, but a simple one by Bharat Mehra defines digital divide as “the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not”. The term is usually incorporated in e-Government programas as a challenge need to be tackled to secure more up-take of government online services and smoother transition towards knowledge based economy and society.
However, while many governments around the world explor how to make the move from Gov 1.0 to Gov 2.0, another perspective of the digital divide is emerging and should be paid the necessary attention.
To better illustrate it, let’s have at quick look at the status in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – this 55,000 GDP per Capita country on the Arabian gulf is widely known with its world-class telecom infrastructure and limited digital divide (in its traditional perspective). The country is ranked 23rd in the 2010 Networked Readiness Index (NRI) from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
And here are some interesting statistics that tell the story about the level of the society engagement in the online social networks:
- Social networking is the second online activity for UAE internet users. (Arab Media Outlook report, 2010).
- 70% of the internet users in UAE are subscribed to one of the social netwrok sites (Arab Media Outlook report, 2010). This is the highest uptake in all Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, and it’s higher than the 30% uptake in EU countries (The impact of social computing on the EU information society and economy report – European Commission)
- 41% of Twitter users in MENA are from UAE. (Yahoo Maktoob business statistics)
So, it’s obvious that the “traditional” digital divide as defined above shouldn’t be a main concern the e-Government transformation in UAE, but the high “socialization” of UAE society in online social networks as shown by the figures above might be an indicator for another “digital divide: as the society moves ahead in understanding and leveraging these online communities for exchanging ideas and organizing collaborative actions, most of the government agencies still struggle to find their way in these online communities. In my humble point of view, this gab between the government and the society in using the online social communities would will create a new “digital divide” that could affect the pace of adoption of Gov 2.0 concepts and initiatives.
Other countries might have similar situaitons but government agencies in UAE should leverage the examples demonstrated by H.H. Sheik Mohammed on Facebook and Twitterand turn this into a continuous work through sustainable methodologies , the recent “social networking policy forum” might be a good start.