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A Dream for the Digital Age

PRINCETON – Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King dreamed of an America that would one day deliver on its promise of equality for all of its citizens, black as well as white. Today, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has a dream, too: he wants to provide Internet access to the world’s five billion people who do not now have it.

Zuckerberg’s vision may sound like a self-interested push to gain more Facebook users. But the world currently faces a growing technological divide, with implications for equality, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness that are no less momentous than the racial divide against which King preached.

Around the world, more than two billion people live in the Digital Age. They can access a vast universe of information, communicate at little or no cost with their friends and family, and connect with others with whom they can cooperate in new ways. The other five billion are still stuck in the Paper Age in which my generation grew up.

In those days, if you wanted to know something but did not own an expensive encyclopedia (or your encyclopedia was no longer sufficiently up-to-date to tell you what you wanted to know), you had to go to a library and spend hours searching for what you needed. To contact friends or colleagues overseas, you had to write them a letter and wait at least two weeks for a reply. International phone calls were prohibitively expensive, and the idea of actually seeing someone while you talked to them was the stuff of science fiction.