Category Archives: Internet Access

Besides better communication, the extraordinary potential for education, business opportunities, increased political monitoring of every species of government, and even dramatic healthcare improvement, there is another aspect of the increasing connection of our world: the human connection, which I plan to pay special attention to. For this indicator, I’m using the data on Internet Users (per 100) from the World Bank.

The Internet and Monoculture

Internet Access

As access to the internet rapidly spreads across the planet (Cuba just added its first high-speed connection; even the remotest islands want in – with one notable exception mentioned below; and even the deepest regions of the Brazilian Amazon are getting hooked up), one obvious side-effect is access to cultures and social norms which differ from your own.

American and Western culture have long been dominant in this arena with the good, the bad, and well, rock n’ roll, distributed globally courtesy of a powerful mass media machine, intent on driving sales in markets, whether emerged, emerging, or submerged.

This has been a mixed blessing for aforesaid markets. Democracy, jazz and the blues, personal computers? Pretty good all round. McDonald’s, Grand Theft Auto, and reality TV? Hmm.

There are a lot of people on both sides of this equation who are more than a little uncomfortable with these cultural exports. (See China’s Great Firewall, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and the entire country of North Korea.)

(Then there is North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean whose inhabitants have just decided that, nope, sorry, we’re not having anything to do with you. Period. End of discussion. And any more attempt at discussion will result in lots and lots of arrows fired at your helicopters, boats, etc….)

But the connections continue nonetheless and what is actually happening is not the feared monoculturization of the planet. Yes, there are definitely some not-so-great examples out there. But there is also a burgeoning mixture of culture that is producing some remarkable, for lack of a better word, “super-culture” where two cultures mix and produce something completely different:

  • Music, as the universal language, is at the edge of this wave, and this is nowhere more apparent in the blockbuster Youtube hit, Gangnam Style which although borrowing from Western tropes, has a definitely Korean stamp; a few other interesting and less well-known  include heavy metal in Baghdad; Mongolian rap music; and a young South African falling in love with Italian opera;
  • Languages are being preserved as well but changed, and even taken up by people not originally of the culture; and the English language is adding words at an unprecedented rate including many borrowed from other languages. (Whenever someone in the U.S. complains about immigrants not speaking English, I always want to ask what the English words are for “taco,” “sushi,” and “falafel.”)
  • Manga comics, Bollywood, African smart phone apps, and Carnival in Rio, and I’m sure you can name even more examples — all are contributing to a vibrant myriad of changing and mixing cultures that shows every sign of further diversifying, fusing, and then changing again. And definitely not slowing down even despite some massive and occasionally effective efforts to control the process. (See Ai Weiwei.)

So I’m not worried about one dominant monoculture — it seems we’re all smarter and more creative than that. And I’m looking forward to whatever cultural fusion I could never have imagined will show up next. Which reminds me I have to go try to track down that Swedish/African fusion band I heard recently….

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. This is not to say that we aren’t losing some cultures, traditions, and languages. This has always happened and will continue. (Some of those traditions, such as slavery, can’t be discarded fast enough.) But we have also never been so capable of “saving” some elements of these disappearing cultures by using modern technology and there are hundreds of anthropologists involved in exactly that.

Getting Connected to Everyone Everywhere in the World

How connected are you? If you’re like me, you might often feel you’re too connected and should probably just step away from the phone, smart phone, computer, tablet device, etc., etc… and take a nice long technology-free walk.

But I also have no desire to give up these ever-increasing connections. I get to chat with people all over the planet instantly. I can browse news from journalists far and wide, and sometimes find out things even before the networks in the U.S. catch on. And I can watch videos, read stories, hear music and learn new things from friends, and sometimes people I’ve never even met from places near, far and in-between.

I’m also pretty sure that the faster we all get connected, the faster we can solve the world’s problems because two heads are always better than one, and well, if seven billion of us can really collaborate and put our brains together, we might actually figure out some stuff. (Okay, it’s probably going to be the kids because they are already showing up the adults in way too many ways but at least we adults could help them out a little!)

However, although we are seemingly bolting as fast as we can towards that goal of 100% internet connection throughout the planet, there are still many places where people don’t have access.

One country that is making great progress but still has a good distance to go is the Philippines. Just a few years ago in 2007, according to the World Bank, only 6% of the population had access to the web. The latest figure is close to 33% (with 27% also being connected to Facebook!) but, especially in rural areas, there’s still a lot to be done.

Because internet connection is seen as a need but not a basic one (and also because telecommunication companies are already doing their darndest to get into these new markets) there aren’t a lot of obvious ways to “give” the internet though doing so can have a huge and positive impact on people’s lives.

So I checked instead with Kiva and found a businesswoman in the Philippines who wants to expand her internet cafe helping people in her rural community. I’ve added my little bit now and, fingers crossed, if she gets the loan, maybe we’ll have a few more people on board to help out on solving some of the big issues we’re all facing!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. Great recent piece here on exactly how telecoms infrastructure is driving new growth in Africa.

Another Somewhat Quieter Internet Sensation in Africa

A  story about an ex-Ugandan warlord and an American NGO’s quest to have him brought to justice has been making a lot of headlines lately. Impressive as the social media effort is, interestingly enough it doesn’t seem to be engaging a lot of Africans. That might be because they’re too busy doing something else….

Countries in Africa have long been on the outskirts of the internet revolutions. No longer. Deep-sea fiber optic cables are making their way to the farthest shores of the continent. And cell phone towers are springing up all over the place which has prompted a exponential growth in cell phone sales and connectivity.

This is also bringing unprecedented opportunities to small businesses, and particularly in rural areas. A terrific example of this is taking place in Ivory Coast where these pictures (from the BBC) tell the story best of what can happen when people get hold of technology and more importantly, gain the opportunity to get fair prices on their goods.

And this is just one story of thousands that are quietly taking place across the continent (and yes, worldwide too) as poor farmers are able, with the help of 21st century tech, to monitor and negotiate fair prices for the goods they so painstakingly produce.

The international organization behind this idea, RONGEAD, works with a local organization to promote development rather than just aid. So, while many Westerners have suddenly learned about the evils of an ex-Ugandan warlord through social media and are busy being appalled, at the same time Africans are taking their own future into their hands with the same technology and moving forward into a more prosperous, peaceful and safe future.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Internet Access and the “Arab Spring”

I’ve now updated my “Internet Access” data and was happy (but not surprised) to see the number of people able to access the internet globally increase by quite  a bit. The numbers, however, are still from 2010 and I suspect that in 2011, they will have really started climbing. (I’m looking for reliable data on this but haven’t stumbled across any yet — can’t wait till I do!)

Though most of the countries increased by just a few percentage points, there were some standouts; Bosnia (around 15% increase), Chile (11%), Croatia (10%), the Dominican Republic (almost 14%), Israel (15%), Panama (15%) and Qatar (almost 40%!).

(There were also some inexplicable declines especially in Europe which I can only assume were earlier corrections of data, i.e., Iceland decreased from 98% to 95.8%. The Ukraine also declined from 33% to 22.8%. Not sure at all what this means but overall global numbers went up which makes more sense. Maybe problems with cost started to become an issue in some of the European countries where this seemed to be happening most.)

One country that stands out particularly in the rapid transition to an internet-connected population, is Kenya, which went from 10% to 25.9% of their population having access to their internet by the end of 2010. And this ties in to one very interesting aspect of internet connection which is the degree to which it has allowed for the coordination of political opposition. (I’m pretty sure the numbers of internet-connected citizens in the “Arab Spring” countries will have gone up by quite a lot during 2011.) Kenyans used the internet extremely effectively to spread the word about politically motivated brutal attacks in post-election violence in 2007-2008.

Could the increase in internet access across Africa signal an “African Spring,” and the overthrow of some of the seemingly-unmovable “dictators for life”? As the African continent connects to the rest of the world with impressive alacrity, not only will we find out, we’ll see every moment.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Internet Access

Once upon a time but really not very long ago, access to the internet would not have been deemed as an essential tool to improve quality of life. Nowadays, we can barely imagine life without this invisible web of connectivity that constantly surrounds us.

Besides the obvious advantages of better communication, potentials for education, business opportunities, increased political monitoring of every species of government, and even dramatic healthcare improvement, there is another aspect of the increasing connection of our world.

That’s the human aspect. It’s no longer possible to be unaware of famines in Africa, flooding in Asia, earthquakes in formerly remote areas. And with those news reports, come images, videos, pictures from smart phones, pictures from satellites.

With connection, we are becoming more aware of each other. Along with all of these disasters has simultaneously arisen an outcry for help, and charity. Social networks in particular have answered these needs in ever-growing and at frequently astonishing levels.

We are truly becoming a global society and, as we help other people on the other side of the planet, we are also, perhaps unsurprisingly but inevitably, losing that distinction of “other.”

I just checked the numbers I’ve been using for this indicator, “Internet Users,” from the World Bank, and they seem to have changed. I’m guessing they’ve gone up and I can’t wait to find out how! (And they don’t even reflect this exciting fact yet: Liberia just brought ashore its first deep sea fiber optic cable. This is going to speed up the internet in West Africa even more quickly and opens up all sorts of possibilities for growth.)

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

P.S. I meant to include more here on the current internet and education synergy but got sidetracked. However, I will certainly return to this subject because it is simply amazing to me what is happening with the convergence of those two worlds as well as the introduction of “gamification.”