The term digital divide is usually understood to mean the gap between those who have access to internet and those who don’t, but the divide goes beyond barriers to technology. Whether we can find information in the language we speak has a big impact to play in the relevancy of Internet for all.
According to the report released this week by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, The State of Broadband 2015: Broadband as a Foundation of Sustainable Development, “we have reached a transition point in the growth of the Internet.” Internet growth is slowing, and this could be due in large part to its perceived irrelevance to people who are newly introduced to the web. Language plays a major role in relevancy and uptake of course, but especially today. Until now, people who spoke the language of the Internet adopted it with ease. Today, to succeed in bringing the next 4 billion online, its time for the Internet to adapt to the people who are not naturally gravitating.
Let’s start with the vast number of languages representing humanity across the globe. How many are there? According to the report, approximately 7100. However only 5% of the world’s languages are even accounted for on the Internet. The top 10 languages of the internet now provide 82 % of all the available content (English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, German, French and Malaysian). If a user does not speak one or two of these main languages, the amount of accessible information is considerably less or to be more realistic, simply nonexistent.
Along the same lines, the number one search engine, (Google in case you had any hesitation), “recognizes 30 different European languages but only one African language and no indigenous American or Pacific language” says David Prado a researcher in linguistic diversity.
Digital literacy is the first issue. You have to understand how to use the device in your hands before anything else. But language is certainly a close second. The Broadband report states that, “the challenge now is about connecting the next four billion people who will come online, in many more languages, via more platforms, using many more devices over a range of different networks.” It’s time for the Internet to reflect our diversity.
The power of ICT can be harnessed as a vehicle for fast-tracking the safeguarding of our language heritage before languages become extinct. In so doing, ICT will play a vital role in economies by bringing the next 4 billion people into the online markets. Marc Veremis, CEO of Upstream, in speaking to Net Imperative, gave his insight that, “brands looking to break into [markets such as Nigeria, Vietnam, Inida, and Brazil] can easily build trust with their target market simply by ensuring their content is available in local languages.” This is a straightforward approach that will help to accomplish the two main goals: improved digital literacy, and improved economies. Both of these goals achieved will have a ripple effect on various other aspects of society, hopefully all for the better.
There are many other points to highlight on this subject, and we recommend you read the article published on the Blog “The Guardian Lab” to get the full details of how the language impacts the digital divide.