Is Linux Closing the Digital Divide?
June 28, 2013
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As Linux continues to produce innovative technology, many believe the company is closing the Digital Divide – but not everyone is convinced.
What is the Digital Divide?
Similar to the Achievement Gap which impacts students of different economic backgrounds, the Digital Divide refers to those individuals who can benefit from digital technology and those who cannot. The divide is spurred by socioeconomic factors – simply put, some people can afford modern technology and others can’t.
Yet, closing the divide requires more than giving poor people the same access to technology as their richer peers. As the Digital Divide Institute argues that “closing the divide involved restructuring the telecommunications sectors in each nation so that broadband’s benefits can flow to the masses, not just the elite urban sectors of emerging markets.” Therefore, to close the divide, the infrastructure of technology must be equalized. Communities – not just individuals – must be able to access the same technology on the same broadband support.
Furthermore, individuals must be offered education on how to use this technology. Educational opportunities must be equal, allowing all people to use the technology in the same ways without privileging one socioeconomic group over another.
How Linux is Closing the Divide
As Katherine Noyes notes in her article “7 Top Linux Trends of 2012,” last year was an incredible year for the computing company.
Though the company had much to brag about, Noyes ranks tiny, cheap pcs at number one. She specifically highlights the Raspberry Pi, which is a low-cost computer that was originally intended to spur interest in technology and computing among school children.
What is unique about the Raspberry Pi is that it is contained on a single circuit board, but manages to boast ports for HDMI, USB, composite video, analog audio, power, internet and a SD card. Furthermore, like all Linux computers, the Raspberry Pi runs entirely on open-source software.
The tiny computer allows students to mix and match software, just like a full-size Linux computer. This allows students to specialize the computer based on the work they have to do and their personal preferences.
Yet, to date, the device has also been used to create a weather information system, a doorbell server, a robot, a coffee machine and a supercomputer. Considering the expense in producing this technology, the Raspberry Pi allows a wide variety of individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds access to incredibly advanced technology – or, at the very least, access to creating this technology.
This is just one example of the technology Linux is producing to level the Digital Divide.
The fact that Linux enables user access to the majority of its software for free is another such example. As Carla Schroder notes, Linux promises its customers just about everything. Especially in regards to small businesses, Linux allows companies access to technology and resources that were previously beyond their monetary means. Depending on how business owners are using Linux, it may directly impact profitability – and accessibility.
However, as many people have pointed out, Linux is harder to manage than Windows and Mac. Though it is more flexible – and offers more free services than either of its contemporaries – it would require more education to master.
Consequently, that would require more funds. With most organizations running on either Windows or Mac, the question becomes: should Linux be relied on to bridge the divide? Though it is compatible with both Windows and Mac, it may be too difficult to teach to new users.