The worldwide web, simply known as the Web, turns 32 today. Its inventor Tim Berners-Lee has a message about the predominant digital divide, which he outlines in his recent annual letter.
While today’s young people are considered as a generation of digital natives, Bernes-Lee points to a disturbing report from the International Telecommunication Union.
The 2020 report estimates that one-third of young people don’t have access to the internet globally. Based on this, Bernes-Lee says far too many young people remain excluded and unable to use the Web to share their talents and ideas.
With the Web proving to be a powerful tool for catalysing change, and with a variety of living examples to prove this power around the world, he says, it’s only a fraction of what’s possible.
“Every young person who can’t connect represents a lost opportunity for new ideas and innovations that could serve humanity.”
In conjunction with Web Foundation co-founder Rosemary Leith, Bernes-Lee also says many more young people lack the data, devices, and reliable connection they need to make the most of the Web. On reliable connection, only the top third of under-25s have a home internet connection, according to UNICEF.
Once young people connect to the internet, they are also faced with additional problems like abuse, misinformation.
“This is especially true for those disproportionately targeted on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality, abilities, and gender,” the letter reads.
“How many brilliant young minds fall on the wrong side of the digital divide? How many voices of would-be leaders are being silenced by a toxic internet?”
Bernes-Lee calls on industry leaders to recognise internet access as a basic right and work together to ensure all young people have access.
First, he and Leith propose investing in network infrastructure, subsidies, and support for community networks to help eliminate the digital divide. And, secondly, by ensuring the technology is empowering by design.
“We must also make sure technology is helpful, not harmful; inclusive, not exclusive.”