This dissertation is concerned with the development of the e-world and its relationship to social exclusion. The world is at a crucial moment in history. Major changes are occurring, moving it beyond the industrial era. A new type of society is emerging that has been called the Information Society because its goal is to produce and exchange information. Two main factors are influencing its development: globalisation, and the digital technology. They are interacting together and mutually reinforcing each other at the same time. Globalisation is an intensification of exchanges across borders. While primarily it is an economic process, it also diffuses capitalism ideas over the world. An event at the other end of the planet might affect the entire world’s population. Therefore, globalisation needs a powerful communication tool to be effective. This is where digital technology shows its importance. Its development and spread enable to exchange information easily everywhere. Internet is a perfect example because it permits to exchange any kind of data from anywhere at an always faster speed. This Information Society is transforming all aspects of society: the workplace, but also human relations and has huge impacts on people lives. It can create new opportunities such as overcoming the unequal distribution of knowledge resources for example. However, it implies new risks at the same time for people who will not be part of the Information Society. A new term is widely used, the Digital Divide which defined the gap between those who have access and the knowledge to use digital technology and those who cannot. These disparities in access and use of information and communications technology exist between countries (the international digital divide) and between groups within countries (the domestic digital divide). This digital exclusion is often cumulative, adding to other social disadvantages.
To fight this divide public policies are necessary. All major International organisations are now dealing with the issue acknowledging its importance. The European Union has set major policies on the Information Society such as the eEurope action plan 2002.
It not only aims at developing the economical aspects of the Information Society, but also to make it more inclusive of all. An extension of this plan has been made to all candidate countries, to include them in the "European Information Society " to come.
After having explored in a theoretical way the risks involved, the research is looked at on the ground actions fighting the Digital Divide. I choose to go explore projects in France and Estonia that are promoting access for all to the Internet. Two projects in France have been studied. One is an Internet bus, travelling around rural areas and providing Internet access in the most remote areas. This bus tries to tackle the Digital Divide in a different way than most projects in this filed. The idea is to go where people live with the technology to show them the advantages of the Internet. It can go into villages and is open to all the inhabitants. It can be people who are interested to learn how to use it or simply people who do not have access in their houses and who want to use the Internet for free. They are also going in particular places to address specific groups such as retired people’s houses.
The second project is a global initiative from a social centre in a rural village. The specificity of this project is that it is addressing the issue in multiple ways. It first has some training sessions where people in six hours are trained to become Internet users. During sessions, people learn some technical aspects of the computer and the Internet, so they can feel confident using it. Besides the normal training, they also learned how to get the information they need form the Internet. The centre believes that the Internet is a tool and that people use it if it is relevant to their lives. That is why they focus much on the necessity of participating in the creation of websites and participation to forum to become actors of the Web.
This is also why they are creating websites for local authorities in order to create some local contents and make the Internet closer to people’s lives. They also tried to include the most disadvantaged citizens of their village by having an insertion program on digital technologies for them. Their concrete goal was to create some websites, but this was only a means to achieve a better inclusion of these people. They also opened an Internet access point where people could come and use Internet for free. In Estonia, one national initiative has been researched, the Public Internet Access Points (PIAP). This program wants to install free Internet access in all areas of Estonia in public spaces, mostly libraries. This solution was chosen, because it was thought to be the best way to include everybody in the information Society. In addition, Estonia had poor communication infrastructures inherited from Soviet time and therefore the question of access to Internet was seen as essential for developing the country. Started by the United Nations Development Program, the PIAPS project has extended after by a non-profit organisation, the Open Estonian Foundation. Now the program continues to grow as part of a governmental plan on Internetisation of all public libraries in the country. A private initiative, the Look@World project has been also introduced that will help the spread of PIAPs.
All these three projects were studied in order to see their strengths and weaknesses for addressing the Digital Divide. The comparison of the projects clearly demonstrated that there is not one good solution to bridge the digital exclusion but many answers are possible and desirable to reach more people. Moreover, all actors of society must be involved, public and privates sectors as well as Civil Society. There is furthermore a necessity to work simultaneously on access, knowledge, and content to promote the participation of all to the Information Society. A fourth point, the attitude has also emerged form the research. Many people do not see the value for them to use Internet, therefore there is a necessity to work on that issue in making the Information Society relevant for their lives.