How many people around you have a phone in their hands?
In Latin America’s cities the mobile is king. From adverts for the next smartphone to the obligatory WhatsApp chat, it’s not unusual today to see people running their lives through their touch-screen.
In a world in the throws of the biggest information and communication revolution ever seen, Latin America is one of the most active regions: mobile phone subscriptions tripled in the region in the past decade.
Seven out of ten people in the world today have a mobile phone, according to the 2016 WOrld Development report, developed by the World Bank and which focuses on digital dividends/ However, despite the rapid growth of the technology, 60% of the world’s population don’t have access to the Internet, greatly reducing the technology’s potential reach and desired benefits.
“For many people, today’s increase in access to digital technologies brings more choice and greater convenience,” explains the report. “Through inclusion, efficiency, and innovation, access provides opportunities that were previously out of reach to the poor and disadvantaged.”
But can a mobile phone really boost development? Here are the three key points
Surrounded by technology but the digital divide still exists
While the numbers show that digital access has grown, up to now the benefits of the rapid expansion of digital technology have principally favoured those with money, qualifications or influence in the world. It is these groups who are best positioned to take advantage of the advancements, according to the reports authors, Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann.
For example, in Latin America just one in ten poor households have access to the Web. As a result, the growth of this technology is bypassing exactly those people whose with the greatest need to connect to the wider world.
In fact, at a country level, level of connectivity is clearly tied to the relative wealth of the country: the OECS, Chile and Uruguay lead the region with the highest percentage of their citizens connected to the web. Whereas Brazil - which enjoyed a period of strong growth during the first decade of this new millennium - is among the top five countries with the most Internet users in the world.
On the other side of the coin, however, 98 million Brazilians and 70 million Mexicans don’t have Internet access. And in Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, less than 20% of their citizens are connected.
Such gaps lead to information inequality and prevent the poorest from taking advantage of the innate potential of digital technology to reduce costs and barriers to new markets and education, according to the report.