Harvard Professor Amartya Sen pioneered a philosophic model that measures societal wellbeing, called The Capability Approach. The Capability Approach looks at the substantial freedom of the individual, meaning: enjoying the actual freedom to choose a standard of living rather than another without affecting negatively the freedom of generations to come.
This differs significantly from other views of freedom, where freedom is the absence of an oppressive force or person. Today on National Freedom Day we will use Sen’s model to examine the level of freedom of people in the twenty-first-century.
The Capability Approach lays the philosophical groundwork on which measurement models such as the United Nations Human Development Index were created. It’s why we measure access to education, technology, life expectancy at birth and more.
According to the Human Development Index Report, equality of access remains very poor.
In countries with low human development, there is less than one person per 100, with internet access. This makes competition with a country with 29 per 100 people with the internet unfair. This inequality in internet access limits the amount of technological innovation a country can have.
This index which highlights broadband access inequality speaks only to inequality across countries. Even in highly developed countries such as the United States, many communities remain underserved. Take for example Detroit, Michigan, where almost half of the inhabitants have no access to the internet. As a result, the Equitable Internet Initiative was formed, to teach people in disaffected communities to build their internet networks. Groups of people coordinate routers and fiber optic wires to give people quality internet access.
“Half of the city has 100 megabits per second and the people with the least amount of resources only have 10. ” – Diana Lucero, Leader of the Detroit Community Technology Project.
When talking about access to resources such as the internet, education, and quality of life we have to take a multidimensional approach. As we have seen there are inequalities in access across countries, within countries and most importantly inequality in the quality of access itself. The continuous tension of multidimensional inequality shows us that Sen’s philosophy is more relevant than ever. The Capability Approach highlights our responsibility to look if people have equal access and if the way that access is presented to the individual allows them to take full advantage of it.
Imagine what this type of inequality means for children across the world. Exposure to technology from a younger age increases the competence of the individual with that technology, giving him more access to its rewards. Countries that have children with no exposure to the internet or sub-par exposure will have inequality grow. For these reasons highlighting access to high-speed internet as a dimension of inequality is essential if children in other countries are to catch up and to create a world where all children have equal opportunities to the rewards of twenty-first-century technology.