The Internet as instrument of empowerment:
The social development divide between the haves and have-nots has widened since the world-wide expansion of accessibility to the medium.
The have-nots have been disempowered by the absence of access to the world of information and commerce. The haves are faced with the deluge of hardware, smartphones, and apps that have taken over their lives and threaten to replace the real world with the virtual world. These two demographic groups have very different problems: One is the ubiquitous nature and invasion of the Internet into their lives, the other is the have-nots and their exclusion from its dangers but also its benefits.
Access to information:
In developed countries such as the USA and UK and Europe, Internet access has become available to almost the entire population with the exception of remote rural areas. In all the continents except Africa there has been significant growth in Internet services. Such growth as Africa has seen: from 2% to 16% is attributable to the growth in the smartphone user-numbers in South Africa. In this country the hardware is relatively inexpensive and the wireless and wired networks widespread, even the poorest can link up to this valuable resource.
Availability of networks:
This has been the single most important factor which has held back developing and Third World countries from participating in the information revolution. In most instances the limiting consideration has been cost. The international branded service providers cannot set up the infrastructure without passing on huge costs to the consumer, who, by definition, cannot afford them. State-owned utilities in poorer countries are also constrained by limited budgets which see only urban centres provided with telephone or electric cable infrastructure.
Cost of communication infrastructure: Wireless or Wired?
In developed countries in which there were pre-existing copper-wire systems such as telephone, television or electricity connecting a community or a country, the path was open to ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) to utilise the existing connectivity to transmit data via these cable systems. Consequently the benefits of the information-industry was first enjoyed by wealthier developed communities. In the same way the concentration of potential users in a fairly affluent society made it worthwhile for branded ISP services to set up broadband wireless transmission infrastructure. Again poorer isolated communities were excluded.
Social development and personal growth:
Used under some form of parental or teacher control with due regard paid to e-safety as discussed on the Quib.ly forum, this is an empowering technology. But has it taken over the lives of young people to the extent they no longer play, read, exercise or socialise. The virtual world is no substitute for the real world and it is essential to keep the balance. Try this: No electronic media in the house for 14 days, for any of the occupants. Suddenly the family will need each other and their friends to entertain themselves. Board games will replace TV and video games. Exercise and outdoor play will replace mindless gaming and watching pabulum on television.
You may be surprised that as day 14 approaches they may forget and run with the game for a few days longer and even come to regret the arrival of day 15.
How can isolated and poor communities participate in the Internet revolution?
For reasons of the profit-motive, commercial broadband ISP’s are simply going to ignore low-density communities of potential users. For both state and international aid agencies the obvious step is towards increased access is by way of utilising or growing existing wired infrastructure, either telephony or electricity, and using this to enable its citizens to access the world-wide communication network.
Fibre-optic technology is probably the most likely medium-term option to widen Internet access to isolated or underdeveloped communities. The advantages of this system is that it can carry higher data rates and cover greater distances at a lower cost than the existing conventional systems.
The concerns of developed communities who take accessibility to the Internet for granted along with other basic human rights, are a world apart from those who have never shared the benefits and the dangers of this wonderful technology. Their concerns are not too little Internet but how much is enough and what are the long-term effects on a digital information and digital entertainment on tap 7/24?
For those of you who have succeeded in one or more experiments of intelligent and effective control of e-media, share your story on an excellent forum at the site Quib.ly. You will also have the benefit of the views of experts in both e-safety and the healthy development of children and young people in the electronic age.