When doing this research on the Digital Divide, not being a specialist of the question, I went from surprise to surprise. First, I was not expecting to find many documents on the subject since it is a rather new topic. However, as it has been demonstrated in this work, on the contrary, a wide variety of documents are available. Moreover, considering the subject, all researchers have naturally put their work on Internet and I must admit that I realized the immensity of the World Wide Web with this research. Another discovery for me was the quality of policies on the Information Society, in particular the eEurope Action Plan. Finally, the last surprise was to discover that France had interesting initiatives on the issue and that it was more active than I thought.
As for my goals at the beginning of this research, I think they had all been addressed in this work. The spread of Internet and the new technologies is expanding exponentially and will continue to grow. This is dramatically changing the society we are living in and therefore will have an impact on everybody’s life. This is why it is so important to be ready to evolve in this information Society. The participation of all in society has always been a challenge. Of course, there are always individuals who do not want to be part of it, but there are also many who would like to participate and who cannot for various reasons, such as disability or education for examples. This inclusion can be helped by a willingness of this society to include everyone, by means of financial help, support, housing, etc. The rise of a new form of society will open new opportunities but at the same time will leave aside many people this why there are real risks of Digital Divide in the Information Society. People who are already disadvantaged might in addition have to face another obstacle to their inclusion in the society. As we have seen, this digital divide exists and has different components, between countries but also within a country.
To fight this digital exclusion, all stakeholders of the society, must address the issue, the Public and private sectors and civil society all have a role to play. First public policies and actions must support the participation of all in the Information Society. The eEurope action plan seemed to have understood that and is trying to tackle the problem. An interesting point of it is that it is trying to work on all aspects of what could be problematic, access, training, and content. Such a plan at a continent level (eEurope and eEurope +) and the money available can also reduce inequalities between countries and bridge the digital divide across Europe. There is also a necessity for richer countries to help the developing ones to be part of the Information Society because they do not have the sufficient resources to address the issue alone. While the Market alone cannot assure the inclusion of everyone, it has a role to play too. A project like Look@World initiative is a good example of what private sector can do to insure a better participation of all. Huge trans-national corporations are the main beneficiaries of the globalisation of the economy. They could in return help the development of third world countries.
Finally, public and private actions are not the only ones which can promote Internet, individuals, and the civil society have their part to play too. Internet and any new technologies are just tools and therefore depend on of what one makes out of it. To use Internet as an active tool by creating websites, participating in forums, exchanging through emails is as important if not more than the expansion of the economic aspect of the web. All this information available and this ease to communicate must be used to promote dialogue among society or we might end up as many science fiction authors predict in a world dominated by technologies but where human contact is lacking.
When talking about Internet usage and more generally about the Information technologies, it has been said that there are three components: access, training, and contents. At the end of this research, it seems to me vital to address this issue today by work on the three dimensions simultaneously. We have seen the utility of public Internet access Points in the promotion of the IS. In developing countries, the question of access is primordial, and the help of richer countries will be necessary to develop the infrastructure first and then the access. Maybe, the World needs something like the eEurope+ initiative at a global scale. I strongly believe that in developing countries the Public Internet Access Points are probably the best way to promote the participation to the Information Society of all. It might even have a bigger impact since in most of these countries schools do not have the means to educate the new generations about the digital technologies. In Africa especially, it is utopic to think of bringing a computer and Internet into private houses where the phone is still a luxury and an unaffordable item for most Africans. There a communitarian approach with Public Internet Access Points and their installation in villages would have much more success and fits well with the African mentality. Mr. Faye who is working for the UN on African issues confirmed my point of view, for him "Internet as an individual tool will fail in Africa…we need a community connectivity." (McCluskey, 1997). The access to Internet is not solely a developing country question; in most countries, there will always be some people who cannot afford access and use of new technologies and therefore there is a need for public access points.
Although with time access might become easier in developed countries and will not be a main issue, with the integration of Internet with everyday objects such as television or mobile phones, the knowledge dimension will always be essential. The evolution of Information Technologies is so fast that indispensable continuous training will be necessary and that might be a big challenge for the years to come for Europe.
First, schools have to properly train the new generations to use the new technologies But also, they will have to follow the evolution of technologies and adapt their teaching and that might be challenging to education systems which are often slow to react to change. For people out of formal education, necessary continuous training will be necessary.
When interviewing Mr. Braud during my research he told me about a possible solution actually discussed at the governmental level on this particular issue. They are studying the creation of Internet vouchers for all people who have already left the school system. Workers would get them through their employers who in return would get tax deductions from the government. The same vouchers would also be distributed to unemployed people by employment agencies. In any case, they would be valid to go to any certified training centres. This solution seems to me potentially good to address this knowledge issue, but as we have seen all along this work, there is probably not a unique answer, but many possible.
Talking now about content, there is a need to develop websites with diversity in languages used because we have seen that the dominance of the English language on the Web might be a problem for many. There is also a need to develop more websites that make sense to people. Here again all stakeholders of society have to be creators in order to have as much diversity available on the Web. Probably to develop local contents is a key to reach more people. From this work emerged a fourth dimension to promote Internet use, which is the Attitude. Many people are not willing yet to use Internet because they do not see the point for them. Probably more should be done about explaining the benefits one can get from Internet. As the contents will develop, this might become more obvious to people; For example when the eGovernement initiative will be completed more people might be interested in having Internet to do all administrative papers from home instead of having to go to a public office and to wait in line for the same service.
Finally, after exploring mostly the dangers of the Information Society, I wanted to finish this work on a more positive note. This new Society will definitely bring new opportunities, especially in Education. A good example is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has announced that all its course material will be available on line free of charge. While before, the cost of thousands of dollars and the physical distance made these highly recognized courses not accessible to most people, they are now available free to all who can access the Web. Education is the key to development for any country and for the inclusion of people because it gives access to knowledge, work, and income. With lifelong learning Internet might have a chance to prove to all the benefits one can gain by using its potentialities. Another example was given to me by the radio I was listening to as I was working on this paper. In Paris, An Internet Access Point has been installed in a shelter for Homeless people. Although mostly people are using it to look for work, it noticed that it also was a good instrument to rebuild social contacts. It enables foreigners to contact their families and to have a permanent email address. This was for many people the first fixed contact that people can utilize to reach them. Although I tried to demonstrate in this work the possible risks along Internet development that might create more difficulties for the inclusion of the most disadvantaged, this example also shows us clearly all the potential of digital technologies for them.
All along this work, I tried to demonstrate the importance of being active in using Internet to make it an interesting tool. In the end, I decided that it was now my turn to apply this precept by creating my first website which contains the present dissertation. Internet was a great help for me doing this work. Now by adding this modest contribution to the Web, in return that this content I created will be relevant for some people (Guillotin, 2001).
This statement by Sally Wyatt which says that to believe " that once people are connected the value of the Internet will become self evident, is erroneous" (Wyatt, 1999) seems to me a good way to conclude my work. She justifies her argument by some figures from the USA that show an increasing number of former Internet users who have stopped it for various reasons such as the difficulty of use, boredom, the loss of institutional access and/or too expensive. In my point of view, the biggest challenge yet to come for Internet will be to show its usefulness to people by continuously adapting its contents to make sense for people lives.