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Communications of the ACM

Global computing

Thinking Outside the Continent

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In a recent study I conducted with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)3 we operationalized the concept of the Digital Native and proceeded to count them across the planet. Criticisms of the Digital Native premise notwithstanding (and there are many) we argued that young Digital Natives are driving the adoption and inventing the future of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in many unlikely places across the globe. In Europe or North America almost everyone is online; and this is even truer for the young there. Meanwhile, the percentage of the population digitally networked in Africa and South Asia is low, however the proportion of youth adopters is relatively high: in some parts of Africa there are two or three online youth for every online adult.

Small levels of digital penetration are one explanation why large computing multinationals and research universities routinely ignore Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia. But a look specifically at these regions' Digital Natives reveals a collection of innovators and users spearheading some of the world's most exciting ICT advances. These Digital Natives are leading through rule-breaking lateral thinking but they also simply lead in their shear size. The number of global Digital Natives disaggregated by region shows Europe and North America as but small slivers of the worldwide pie (see Figure 1). A paradox looms: computing researchers and practitioners design for the Global North, but the shear numbers and opportunities for innovation are overflowing in the Global South.a


Robert Levine

Concerning the statement "...large computing multinationals and research universities routinely ignore Africa...," I offer this counterexample - the Vodafone m-pesa project <>. This project and its micro transaction services deployed in African nations fit well into the widely advocated micro-entrepeneurial model of appropriate economic development.

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