Augmented reality is set to drive a deeper wedge in the digital divide.
According to Internet World Stats, only 28.7% of people in the world are online. In simple terms, that means if I have five kids only one gets access to the internet. As I sit in a developed economy in Western Europe, the digital divide is not always well recognized or understood. That means that four of my kids aren’t seeing any internet content and getting the benefit of the largest knowledge sharing network the world has ever seen. One child will be given the advantage of the world’s information being organized and widely accessible while the others will be have to get by with what they can access locally.
Most recession-affected countries have proposed some sort of broadband stimulus project to increase the number of people using the internet and develop their digital economy. Emerging markets are rolling out infrastructure to increase uptake and bring more people online.
Discussions around the infrastructure side of the digital divide leads to a lot of trolling through stats and not much understanding of what the gap means. In developed markets the digital divide often means that the less money you have the less likely you are to be on the internet, own a smartphone or enjoy tablet computing. This is a divide between the rich and the poor and Russell M Davies proposes in his Wired column “Imagine the worst bits of Facebook, only they’re everywhere” that augmented reality could lead to a kind of “premium reality” for those that pay for better versions of everyday life.
Augmented reality offers users the opportunity to access information or alter landscapes through digital imagery on mobile devices that interact with their surroundings. Davies notes that this has so far amounted to pizza vouchers and works of art. As the potential of augmented reality is just beginning to come into focus, it illustrates how pronounced the digital divide can become.
Today it means that if you don’t have access to a smart mobile device you are being denied access to some less than essential information but as the technology develops it could mean that you are only seeing half the picture that others are. Once the technology has seen widespread adoption this could mean aggressive advertising models shaping the world you see through your mobile device.
Davis sees this world evolving along a similar path as television broadcasting with advertising cluttering the world of poorer users while those that can pay accessing premium content. He says:
“…businesses will pay to target the rich and end up only addressing the poor because the rich have paid extra to avoid being targeted. So if you’ve got enough money, your world could look like HBO on a Sunday night — high quality and commercial free. If you don’t, it’ll look like the nether regions of your guide — softcore chat offers and lawyers who’ve paid an actor to assure you that they really are lawyers. Which would be fine, except these people won’t be on your telly; they’ll be in your world.”
This means that the one child in five who gets to enjoy the riches of the internet still might not be getting an optimum experience and getting every advantage the web has to offer. As augmented reality technology proliferates we will see how access to these new means of information sharing evolves.