Sha Zukang, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, recently spoke at a conference at Stanford University about the importance of connection technologies (i.e Internet, mobile phones, and text messages) in promoting development in today’s modern world. While it seems universally agreed upon that giving people access to technology is the right thing to do, little attention is focused exactly as to why this is so important. The truth is, creating digital initiatives will not only provide immediate access to information, but it will also give people access to government and elected officials, which will provide greater transparency in political discourse. Here are some statistics that may open your eyes to how far technology has progressed.
- In 2011, seven trillion text messages were sent around the globe
- There are currently six billion mobile devices worldwide
- There are currently 1.2 billion mobile web users
- By the year 2015, 183 billion smart phone apps are expected to be downloaded
Giving people access to technology will not only stimulate development, but increase the likelihood of education as well. With the recent announcement of Apple’s iBooks 2, societies around the world will have instant access to courses and textbooks spanning multiple concentrations and academic disciplines. This will not only provide people without the same educational opportunities the ability to access leading academic institutions, but it will also result in greater standards of living for people that invest in their personal development. I can imagine a day when a tablet becomes the norm for students in schools and universities around the world, providing access to hundreds of textbooks and lectures on-the-go.
Furthermore, giving people access to mobile technology and Internet access will not only integrate societies, but create new markets for developing entrepreneurs to have access to innovative streams they never had. It’s important for institutions such as the UN and countries like the US to take the lead on bridging the “digital divide” and provide access to necessary tools for development. People like Alec Ross, senior adviser on innovation for Hillary Clinton at the State Department have created programs like Statecraft 3.0, in an effort to bridge the technology gap and establish Internet societies in countries abroad. There will be a day when access to public records, political debates, and town halls will be conducted via social media platforms. It’s up to our elected officials and government institutions to adapt to these changes or risk falling behind in the global environment.
While the UN has taken strides to improve digital life in developing countries, the increase of public-private partnerships will have the potential to catalyze stronger growth and increased connectivity. For example, the Eastern African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) sets out to provide a multi-country, multi-partner, fiber-optic cable project that will connect 21 African countries to each other and the rest of the world. This collaborative effort will result in lower broadband costs and spur investments from other companies moving forward.
The importance of providing digital opportunities around the world will remain an important issue for global development in 2012 and beyond. Having access to the Internet should no longer be a luxury, reserved for the developed countries, but a necessity for all nations worldwide. The open Internet will contribute to free societies, public discourse on central issues facing communities, and knowledge and education for those that seek it.