Have you ever heard of that metaphor that seeks to reduce interesting facts about the world’s population into an easily digested format? You know, that one that goes: “if the world was a village with 100 people in it, 52 would be women, 36 would be Chinese or Indian etc etc”. The last time that I heard it I am positive that it said that: “1 person would own a computer”, which made me feel pretty lucky to be that one person.
However, it seems that that metaphor needs to be updated. According to the latest report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency dealing with information and communications technology, one-third of the world’s population has now got access to the internet. This internet access ranges from Iceland, with 95% of people there having broadband connection, to East Timor, where less than 1% of households have broadband connection. (When Skynet becomes operational, I’m fleeing to East Timor – it will be safe from our new computer overlords.) Overall, in the developing world, more than 20% of households have internet access. This seems to be a very high figure indeed, if I had been asked how many people in the world had access to the internet, I wouldn’t have guessed as much as one-third!
However, I may be underestimating the absolutely crucial importance of the internet. In 2010, apparently Finland made access to broadband a legal right! (Are they joking!? So Finland recognises: the right to life, water, housing and the internet!?!) In Singapore and South Korea, there are more active mobile broadband subscriptions than people! In terms of proportion of the population, the countries with the highest number of social network users are an unlikely bunch: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and Russia. No traditionally “western” countries amongst them!
Of course, with the ITU being a part of the UN, the report places the onus on governments to take the steps necessary – if they don’t, the results will be “disastrous”. Economic liberalisation and competition are bad – they create a “fragmented market lacking the economies of scale and the regulatory certainty needed”. Although I suppose that makes sense, if it is a right to have internet access, then a government would be remiss if it relied on the market to provide it!
The interconnectedness of the world is continuing apace – more and more people are on the World Wide Web and have access to the cornucopia of information that it contains. Of course, to use that information, or to even sift it in any meaningful way, requires judgment and wisdom. And unfortunately, there is no website that provides either of those things. Is it possible that we are becoming more informed and less wise? I know how the cynical Marcus would answer…