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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Digital divide - Japan style
Internet users at the Exhibition of Dream Technologies for the 21st Century in Tokyo
In Japan, the web is for many the stuff of exhibitions
by Patrick O'Connell at the G8 summit in Okinawa

It's a Digital Divide, Jim, but not as we know it.

It's the land that gave us the Sony Playstation 2.

It's the country whose economy is number 2.

Guess what. It's got some pretty stark digital differences of its own.

The G8 and its host Japan want tech-rich nations to help bridge the yawning gap which exists when half the world has not yet heard a dial tone.

They might want to talk to Masahito.

The web gap

Masahito is 20 years old and lives at home where his family run a restaurant and make lunch boxes to go. It's 90 minutes drive from the Summit.

But he's never had the internet at home. He says they didn't have it at his school, and he's hoping to get online at home for the first time next month.

"I use the web at my friend's place up the road."

That's right. His school taught him computer graphics but he says they couldn't get him online.

Japan's economy is second only to the mighty United States. Small wonder that bridging the digital divide is going to take a lot of concrete.

"I first saw 3D animations about a year ago and was fascinated. I'd like to go to the mainland, maybe in a year or so, and then I'd like to go to Hollywood."

(If you're surfing in Hollywood ... can you let us know if a 20-year-old could say they had no internet when they were at school?)

Webless computer business

The work his firm does here in Okinawa is impressive stuff. They're setting up a virtual aquarium for surfers to visit. They make animations and graphics and hope to triple their business in one year.

Masahito's school did teach him the skills to get the job. He will go online at home next month.

But the message is that tech-divides are all around.

Here at the summit, there's fresh talk of plans to make a change.

The web needs basic infrastructure

But not everyone is rushing to applaud.

"The utility and value of information technology is a function of development." So says Henry Northover of the UK aid agency Cafod.

"Its sustainability is dependent on educated users and trained support staff. Fundamental conditions like power, communications and education infrastructures have to be in place first."

We're still waiting firm news on what the G8 proposes. The club of the world's richest nations knows the US economy has been turbo-charged by the impact of technology.

When we get the confirmed plans we'll get back to you.

Remember, don't e-mail Masahito at home for another few weeks.

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21 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
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