The world we live in is one that was once viewed as being a vast, disparate and difficult place to navigate. Now, more than ever, we are becoming more connected. With a simple click, double tap, or slide of a button, the user can now be “transported” to various locations around the globe; immersing oneself into cultures, places and peoples of interests. This is not the case for many individuals who inhabit the countries we frequently visit for sunny vacations. When consumed by the hourly use of technology, one can easily forget that there are still individuals and groups who remain isolated by their poor access to modern telecommunication tools.
The isolation within and between various social, ethnic and cultural groups is referred to as the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide is a phrase that has been used to describe the “disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in the technology revolution. This phrase identifies the separation of individuals and various groups who benefit from the digital and technological world versus those who are left behind or don’t have the means to join the rapid growth and change of the information and communication technology (ICT) world.
A country such as Cuba is submerged within this digital divide.
How is the Digital Divide affecting the Cuban people, and how are they coping? From a technological point of view, the tech-gadgets (DVD players, CD players, TV, personal computers, and yes the cell phone) that we take for granted and use everyday, Cubans haven’t had these luxuries until recently. They have been living in a technological past that seems so distant for many of us.
In 2008, change began to take place when the ailing Fidel Castro passed the torch onto his younger Raul. Within several months of being at the helm in Cuba, Raul Castro relaxed many of the laws that were in place that blocked Cubans from owning any technological device. Post 2008, Cubans are now allowed to own cell phones, DVD players, and personal computers. However, to own these devices, you need to be able to afford them. Although this first step to bridging the divide is in motion, it’s still difficult for a local to connect to the internet, as special permits are in place for homes or business to have the internet. WiFi? When I inquired on my last trip, it was rumored that the resorts were beginning to offer WiFi access. Still, for the local business or homeowner, it’s illegal.
The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA), have offices in the larger city centers of Cuba, which allow the locals to gain access to the WWW via a snails pace dial-up modem. The price? $3 CUC/30min or $7CUC/hour. This may seem like a pretty reasonable amount of money to pay to sit & surf the net, but when your monthly income averages $12-25CUC/month, it can add up and ultimately be the choice between daily needs and access to the web. With a Cuban monthly income totalling a tourists possible daily caffeine intake back home, it is unfathomable to think the divide can ever be overcome.
When one is able to afford the access to use the Internet, it is terribly slow, and many of the sites that we would use everyday go to every day (youtube for example) is blocked. Although some locals have been able to access Facebook, accounts are heavily screened, and often the accounts are restricted to post to the outside world. When using instant messaging such as yahoo messenger, if your text message appears inappropriate, the screen gets buzzed and access is temporarily halted or you are kicked off entirely. For the locals, all personal emails are screened and are on the national ‘.cu’ domain which is monitored heavily by the government.
If you are a tourist on the other hand, and are staying in the resorts or hotels, access is not as restricted, and you don’t battle the strict firewalls. But as I discovered, many websites are still inaccessible, fortunately eduboot.com could be accessed (but now I’m sure I have been flagged). When looking at the two sides of the coin, it’s a sharp disparity of Internet content and availability between locals and tourists.
The digital divide will continue to affect Cuba’s population. Whether the Cuban resident resides in urban, rural, or remote distances, many still remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. However, with Raul Castro’s initial efforts in 2008, the country is moving in the right direction. With controlled government supports being implemented to allow the residents to reach out and connect somewhat with WWW, family and friends can connect in the virtual world. Lastly, the Cuban youth hold the key to embracing the digital gap. With the promise of change, the youth can continue to push this movement forward. By knowing and understanding the power of technology and how it can connect, imagine what potentials lie when social media sites are no longer banned.
If you haven’t been to Cuba, I strongly suggest that you take the opportunity to visit this special place. Depending on your vacation needs, Cuba can fulfill whatever desires you are searching for. The country is filled with majestic beaches, historic colonial buildings, classic cars, and friendly people whom want to make your acquaintance.
Although Cuba is making slow changes, and as a tourist who frequents the country, one needs to accept the country for what it is and what it offers. It isn’t Canada or Europe, and being able to step back in time and let the relaxation take over and not worry about ones status update or latest tweet, can be enjoyable. But, once back onto Canadian soil, I flocked the web like nobody’s business!