A few years ago, Mark wrote an OpEd/Blog Entry detailing his position on why connectivity is a human right. Please take the time to read it, you won’t regret it. I also won’t take the time to revisit all of the information he covers in that OpEd but I’d like to add my take to it since it’s something I’m passionate about for a number of reasons I’ll detail below.
With the world population now approaching 7.5 billion people – and only 40% of us connected, there is much room for growth, globalization, expansions of services on the wire, and the [virtual] shrinking of the world. Yet, even those of us who are connected use only a small portion of the information available. Only a small portion of us use technology to make the world a safer, happier, and richer place. Statistics show that for every 100 emails sent there are only two google searches. Of course that is worth pondering and subject to debate on the value of either medium and their contribution to knowledge growth/gain.
Back to the growth of the Internet population. Many initiatives have been undertaken with a limited amount of success. The top 3 I’m aware of – and I’m sure there are many others – are Google’s “Loon” initiative, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, and India’s Mukesh Ambani’s promise to provide every person in the country with a free smart phone and free data (for a limited time). The bottom line is that the world’s wealthiest individuals and tech companies all see the advantages of connecting the entire population of the world. It has been predicted that by 2020 that objective would be accomplished. My guess now is that we’re a little further out than that. However, since I first started studying this and watching it in 2014, the population of the internet has grown by over 1 billion people. That’s staggering when you think about it.
The capitalist in me begins to wonder and imagine what the global economic value is for each individual who is added to the “connected population”. It’s also interesting that aside from the limited expense of providing free basic services that some initiatives like internet.org offer (which I’m all for), social programs still exist in government – leaving the connected world – for the most part – unencumbered by the overhead government creates. Please don’t read too much into that statement by the way. I’m all for government taxes and programs that make communities better, lift people, and enable opportunity. The point I’m making however, is that the Internet still remains a fertile ground for ALL kinds of opportunities. We need to think a little outside the box though when exploring these ideas.
One of the mistakes I think we all make is that we think that connectivity means a home connection, enterprise connectivity, data centers, smart phones, etc. It goes WAY beyond that. We need to start thinking about it in a much different light. The ratio of IoT devices vs. individuals who are connected will grow by an order of magnitude annually for the foreseeable future. We need for both to happen. Without growth in both realms, information to capitalize on and learn from will be relatively stagnate. Also, as controversial as this statement sounds I believe it wholeheartedly. That is that IoT devices when gathering and reporting factual data (like the amount of water available in a well or the amount of power a solar grid is generating) is MUCH more valuable to humans than mere opinions (like this one :)).
Back to the title of this entry. Social programs and experiments to lift people out of poverty are excellent ways to explore methods to level the playing field for those who wish to have a more abundant existence. However, there is substantial data that shows when a country achieves critical mass of connectivity, their GDP grows at a relatively aggressive pace when compared to prior years. Deloitte wrote a paper for Internet.org 3 years ago that explores this notion at a more granular level. Mckenzie also published a paper that states in mature economies, the Internet accounts for 21% of GDP growth. That’s an amazing impact.
When you think of people in India, China, all over Africa, and other developing economies who have valuable services and products they can access and sell – suddenly the world shrinks at the same time opportunities abound. Many questions remain unanswered in this post, I know. Like the fact that connectivity is only a start. How about getting access to the device(s) that provides it, power to charge the device(s), access to infrastructure to ship/receive goods to remote places that otherwise would not have commerced outside of their ‘closed’ communities, etc.
We are still in the ‘Wild West’ days of the growth of The Internet. So much has to happen for it to mean something useful like what I outlined in my original post. However, I remain optimistic that in my lifetime, technology will ‘get out of the way’ and make the proliferation of access to mass amounts of data, devices, and the world’s population a positive experience socially and commercially.
Until next time.