Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty

What can a person do to elevate him or herself from poverty? What can the rest of us do to help the less fortunate and combat poverty on the local, national, and even global levels?

Everyone has a different opinion. Certainly, there are many good answers to this question, and you’ll probably hear a lot of them today. That’s because today is Blog Action Day, a day the blogosphere has singled out to discuss an important topic. This year it’s poverty. Since I’m not one to miss out on a good meme, here is my niche-appropriate take on the matter.

The one thing that separates the haves from the have-nots is most often education, not necessarily in the sense of school but in the sense of knowledge acquisition. After all, we’ve all heard of successful individuals who never so much as graduated from high school. Those with access to knowledge can develop and thrive, as individuals and as communities.

Before the modern age, knowledge was a limited resource, available only through books and teachers. Providing knowledge to the less fortunate, then, required considerable resources. That is no longer true. Compared to the significant expense of books and teachers, the cost of providing internet access is almost negligible. For developing countries, the primary expense lies in establishing the electrical and telecommunications infrastructure. Beyond that, decent computers can now be produced en masse and on the cheap.

We have the ability to give the poor access to the greatest information system the world has ever known. Imagine a world without a digital divide, where every person, regardless of their economic background or location in the world, could tap into the same global wealth of knowledge. Everyone could communicate, share, collaborate, and contribute to that knowledge equally. It would be the promise of the internet realized, knowledge leveraged for the good of all.

Granted, I’m biased in this opinion; the internet is my bread and butter. And I’m not deluded enough to think that global internet access would solve the problem of poverty on its own. Especially in developing countries, it wouldn’t be enough. Many people would have to be instructed in basic skills like reading and writing first, and access to information wouldn’t directly solve problems like hunger and healthcare.

Still, I believe it would be a great start. Knowledge is the first step to solving any problem. It’s not about elevating the poor; it’s about empowering them to elevate themselves. To paraphrase the old proverb, give a man information and he learns for a day. Teach a man to use the internet and he learns for a lifetime.

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