Barrett’s mission is not impossible

Intel chairman Craig Barrett believes that we should all be focusing on giving people in rural communities better access to internet lines than good old-fashioned reel-and-line: a case of give a man the means to phish for a day perhaps?

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By  Published  December 23, 2006

As the old saying goes ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat fish for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever’ (admittedly, this saying pre-dates scare stories about fishing stocks being over-farmed and so on). Intel chairman Craig Barrett believes that we should all be focusing on giving people in rural communities better access to internet lines than good old-fashioned reel-and-line: a case of give a man the means to phish for a day perhaps? As the chairman of the United Nation’s Global Alliance for ICT and Development, Barrett’s claim this month that it is important to get the “next one billion” — those that come after the estimated one billion users already connected worldwide to the worldwide web — is a noble cause. Without this effort, emerging nations will struggle to develop in the fields of education, healthcare, economic development and electronic governance, Barrett told IT Weekly in an exclusive interview this month. As the chairman of one of the world’s largest IT firms, which would clearly benefit from such a massive expansion of the global ICT market, it is of course rather less so. As somebody once put it, “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” However, it is difficult not to see the logic in Barrett’s arguments: those of us who work in or around the ICT industry know just how central it is to economic development and prosperity, and the more people that get “connected” then, frankly, the better for all of us. Nor is it just economic prosperity that can be enhanced through technology adoption. In its press material released around Barrett’s visit, Intel highlighted the case of a health centre in the small Egyptian city of Oseem that is able to use electronic medical records and audio and video interaction to provide remote diagnostic services to patients. Without such services, patients would have to travel to Cairo or Giza, which could mean seperating them from their families for long periods of time at a traumatic and stressful time. In the education field as well, Intel is supporting a huge number of initiatives here in the region, all aimed at supporting and encouraging ICT usage (we’re reminded here of yet another saying; this time we’re thinking about the one alluding to taking a child until the age of seven to show how he or she will develop into an adult, but never mind). If the emerging nations wish to continue their development it seems clear that they must indeed embrace ICT: the digital divide cannot be allowed to widen further. Getting a billion more users connected may be a tough task — but it is certainly not an impossible one, if the will is there. And if we do achieve it, then so many more objectives that seem impossible now could also be fulfilled.

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