Thursday, January 28, 2016

Another Side of Polarization – The Worldwide Web

We live in an information-driven world, from strategic decision-making, financial transactions, news, life-saving connectivity to down-and-dirty influence-peddling, manipulation and marketing. There was a time when third world folks would slip pen-tops into their pockets (minus the bottom part that actually does the writing) to suggest that they were literate. Today, it’s a smart phone… a real one. So much connectivity is through mobile vs. fixed platform tech. But without actual literacy, without the money to pay for the instrument to connect to the Web, the benefits that can be derived from connecting to the Worldwide Web simply don’t exist.
To the extent that others in your society have that literacy plus access to the Web, via computers, laptops or smart phones, those “without” are pushed further behind, have even lower economic potential and face increasing isolation from the rest of the world. They are the subsistence farmers, the uneducated poor crawling though desperation in urban ghettos and too many eking out a living in a marginal existence on the edge of everybody else.
On January 13th, the World Bank issued a report challenging the assumption that technology has created such a ubiquitous and open access to the massive stash of information and data such that the Web has become the great equalizer among people who literally never had so much unrestricted access to so very much. For those who cannot read, however, the World Bank report has stressed that the world has left them even further behind. There are significant communities on earth which are living pretty much the same way they lived 200 years ago, even half a millennium ago. (January 14th) summarizes: “The report's authors pointed out that those already well-off and well-educated have taken advantage of the Internet to achieve great success, however those on the lower end of the economic and education spectrums have seen fewer benefits, if any. The bank notes that 20% of the world’s population is still illiterate, making the Internet almost entirely useless to them. In other countries, women are discouraged from going online. In specific regions of the world, mobile phone ownership is disproportionately low, meaning that fewer citizens have access to the Internet. In total, 60% of the world’s population still remain offline.
“And even in places where populations do have easy access to the Internet and booming technology sectors, the economic benefits remain skewered mostly toward people who were already well-off. In developed countries, the technology sector still only employs 3% to 5% of the workforce. In developing countries, it’s less than 1%. In short, though the Internet and technology sectors have made some people very, very rich—virtually overnight—it’s not creating as many jobs as need be.
“The countries that are best able to take advantage of the economic benefits of the Internet are those with the largest number of users: China, the United States, and India, the report said.
“‘Countries that are investing in both digital technology and its analog complements will reap significant dividends, while others are likely to fall behind’ the bank said in the report. ‘Technology without a strong foundation risks creating divergent economic fortunes, higher inequality, and an intrusive state.’”
So what can a government do? Simply sending Web access to remote regions, expanding the reach into areas where technology would not normally reach, is not enough according to the World Bank. “[The report] says that governments must ensure competition between companies remains strong, programs are launched so workers can gain new skills needed by the tech sector, and that government institutions themselves remain accountable. These three things, the report said ‘are the foundation of economic development.’” Not to mention expanding fundamental literacy!
I’m Peter Dekom, and in a world where technology creates wealth, those who are denied the education and training to use it lose even more than they have ever lost before.

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