BRIDGE NEWS - NEW YORK: (B) OPINION: Peace Corps Needs to Go
High-Tech for Internet Age - Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News ; 07-Dec-1999 12:11:20 am ; 824 words
Harold J. Raveche, Stevens Institute of Technology
HOBOKEN, N.J.--As I hurried to catch my morning flight out of Dhaka, Bangladesh, I
passed hundreds of children sleeping on the edge of the street, within inches of speeding
vehicles. My thoughts turned to how that scene compared with the endless stories of
Americans making buckets of money the dot-com way.
The chasm of technology separating the streets of Dhaka and the highways of Silicon
Valley is so great as to be measured in light-years. If the New Economy has arrived, no
one has informed Dhaka, where the Old Economy barely exists and where people try to
survive without the basics of transportation, refrigeration or even a table on which to
eat (if they have food).
Much has been written about the technology gap between the rich and poor in America.
But it's nothing compared with the technology canyon that separates the United States and
other developed nations from places like Bangladesh, most of Africa and India.
Perhaps the new dot-com world needs a wake-up call, or a crowbar, to redirect it to
serve mankind in nobler ways than it does now.
Newton Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, was right:
We've taken the revolutionary advancement of television and created a vast wasteland, a
video world devoted to our pleasures and appetites. Are we taking the Internet world and
making an even bigger wasteland?
Let's get serious about how we use this new technology. If we raise standards, we can
redesign cyberspace with content that provides more services to those in need.
How can we bridge the technology breach between the haves and the have-nots and create
an Internet to help countries like Bangladesh?
We could start with incentives to entrepreneurs to develop educational software. There
is a rush to wire every American school so students can have Internet access, but precious
little is being done to provide software for educational programs.
There's much more profit in other activities like on-line retailing. In fact, on-line
pornography outfits have more sophisticated software than even university-level
Why not start a private foundation, with e-commerce philanthropists' providing
incentives to Bangladeshi software developers to fund educational software?
The private sector and the U.S. government could establish a sort of national
technology corps to develop Internet technology for nations like Bangladesh. This
public-private partnership would motivate entrepreneurs to help Bangladesh and other
struggling countries become part of the Internet business world.
Members of this "tech corps" could serve a year or two in another country,
developing an infrastructure for Internet commerce that would promote greater capabilities
for tech-based business.
These young adults would provide these countries with the bare essentials of
technology, much as Peace Corps volunteers did with agricultural in the 1960s.
But these programs won't be rehashes of the "pie in the sky" giveaway
programs of the 1960s.
With the enormous wealth being created in the dot-com world and the federal surplus
(created in part by e-commerce profits), there is enough in the federal budget for such
But it requires leaders in the private and federal sectors who understand the growing
worldwide economic gap as well as visionaries to see what can be done to close it.
Why not make this an issue in the upcoming presidential election? Certainly this would
be much more substantial than asking candidates if they know the names of foreign leaders.
Making a difference worldwide will take a willingness by Americans to share part of
their great prosperity (again, generated by the New Economy and e-commerce).
If Americans do not make international economic development a major issue, the gap with
countries like Bangladesh will surely widen to the point where revolution, war and famine
are sure to erupt.
Such scourges have already ended up at our doorstep in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda, and
more will certainly follow.
It is in our enlightened self-interest to share our technological know-how and wealth.
The thousands of Bangladeshi kids sleeping on curb sides at night deserve a sliver of our
HAROLD RAVECHE is president of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. His
views are not necessarily those of Bridge News, whose ventures include the Internet site
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.