Analysis

The Fijian Digital Divide; Where Do You Stand?

This week’s article briefly explores how this affects those living on either side of the spectrum, and what this means for our future as a nation.
29 Apr 2019 16:06
The Fijian Digital Divide; Where Do You Stand?

Analysis:

Thousands of Fijians use computers and the internet daily. In the past few years, the Fijian Government’s push toward digital accessibility has meant thousands of Fijians gaining access to the internet.

It has also meant thousands of Fijians are left out in the burgeoning divide as Fiji’s mass psyche grows more digitally conscious in a globally connected world.

This week’s article briefly explores how this affects those living on either side of the spectrum, and what this means for our future as a nation.
The lucky majority who have constant access.

The wealth of information that most Fijians have access to is unprecedented. There is an estimated 49.9 per cent of Fijians using the internet daily. This equates to 441,559 Fijians on the internet. According to Facebook statistics, there are 490,000 people from Fiji active on their network daily. Fijians are social creatures, after all.

In contrast, in 1997 there were only 0.22 per cent of individuals using the internet; a paltry 1842 Fijians. Indeed the gap between the haves and the have-nots has significantly shortened since then but is still present.

These numbers are quite telling. Since the advent of the internet, half of our population already has daily access, and with telecommunications providers and retailers always pushing devices and data, more are going to come online in successive quarters.

Indeed, we see Fijians on their phones in urban centres everywhere, communicating with each other over vast distances, maintaining communities, sharing information, news and reaching out to do business online.

The ease of usage for digital mediums transcends any cost barrier as Fijians like to sit in the comfort of their homes and offices and conduct activities that would retrospectively be done physically.

Communicating in the digital realm has become a way of life for many Fijians and children growing up in the urban areas are becoming more and more used to interacting with technology online.

While there are many advantages to this, there is a danger that has become apparent. As elucidated in my article on Saturday April 13 in this paper, Fijians are unable to sift fact from fiction, falling prey to fake news and false information.
What about the other side?

In the rural and maritime areas, we see a stark contrast. Families are more communal, and while digital mediums like Facebook offer them opportunities to keep abreast of what their urbanite family members are doing and vice-versa, their day does not typically revolve around the use of digital mediums.

With the Fijian Government’s foray into community and village telecentres in the rural and maritime areas, there has been a marked increase in access to the internet for the digital have-nots. This is one way of bridging the digital divide.

Increasing access to the internet through the ubiquitous availability of Smartphone is another. The provision of entertainment online through initiatives such as the Walesi app is also encouraging many Fijians to get online.

Earlier this year, on a visit back home to Wainunu, Bua, my cousins were watching Fiji’s games on the Walesi app using a Samsung tablet.

This shows the digital divide is beginning to lessen and will continue to do so.

Fiji is lucky in a sense; we do not have to cover as much ground as other countries to give access to most of our population.

Digital accessibility also provides more efficient mass communication.

In the event of natural disasters it allows for multimedia reports to be sent and provides mechanisms for information to disseminate quite rapidly. There are many advantages to be had by bridging the digital divide.
The Low-down

Fiji’s 5 year and 20 year national development plan aims to provide access to the internet and electricity to most of the population and make priority government services, particularly Disaster, Recovery and Rehabilitation accessible online by the year 2020.

With this ambitious plan in place, and as more and more Fijians bridge the divide, we will see the gap closing even more.

Powerhouse countries in the global marketplace have the advantage of vast resources and geographical space. We do not have this edge.

It is my opinion that Fiji has her future closely tied to digital technologies due to our comparatively small geographical size. The advantage to be had is that we can grow as much as we want in an intangible space like the internet.

Our traditional economic pillars like sugar are becoming obsolete over successive generations as more young Fijians are taking to white collar work.

Given that 62 per cent of our population is below the age of 34 and by extension, naturally receptive to digital technologies, we have a valuable opportunity to become an online and digital powerhouse for the world.

In the same fashion that Israel pivoted to become an innovation centre for the world, bringing us the computer chips that we use today and many other innovations, and New Zealand grow their technology sector to become the third largest, Fiji could do the same with digital information management.

Imagine the future we as young Fijians could have if we were to become the digital mecca for the world. Research and development in this area would not only solve the many information problems that Fiji and the Pacific currently face, but could also bolster our economic pillars – tourism being one that could greatly benefit from this.

And so, the onus is on us as a proud nation of patriots to decide where we want to steer our collective futures towards; physical oblivion or digital innovation and growth? This could even become one of our biggest economic pillars.
Feedback: damien@vatis.com.fj

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