New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
Globally, all regions of the world are gaining access to the internet and mobile phones, with mobile phones driving a great deal of the gains. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 60% of individuals now have access to a mobile phone. Convergence around mobile phones is occurring in two simultaneous and reinforcing ways: mobile phones are superseding or preceding other communication methods as the technology of choice for individuals looking for greater interconnectedness, and they are also incorporating (rather than replacing) other mediums in the provision of content.
Mobile phones are cheap, easy to use, provide many benefits, and do not require much literacy or numeracy for basic use. They can be shared, prepaid, billed in prices per second, depending on the needs and abilities of the owner(s). In Cameroon, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, more than four in five mobile phone owners have simple phones, not capable of browsing the internet.
Mobile phones are also capable of providing a diversity of interactive activities. Mobile apps, text messaging, calling, and internet browsing are all possible from these small devices. In African countries, social networking, sending and receiving e-mails, instant messaging, and checking facts and definitions are the most common uses of the internet. The consumption of games, online newspapers, books, radio, and video also signals that rather than replacing these traditional mediums, the internet incorporates their digital versions.
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The global expansion and near ubiquity of the internet is now taken for granted in many spaces in upper- and middle-income countries. The number of internet users has more than tripled over the past decade—from 1 billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.2 billion at the end of 2015. Mobile phones are the most pervasive way for people to access the internet, and their use has spread through developed and developing countries alike.
However, this is still not the case for everyone. Nearly 2 billion people do not own a mobile phone, and nearly 60 percent of the world’s population has no access to the internet. The World Bank’s recent World Development Report 2016 (WDR) on “Digital Dividends” notes that “For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in internet access.”
Moreover, the digital divide within countries can be as high as that between countries, and one reason for that is that women are less likely than men to use or own digital technologies. According to a recent Pew Global Survey, “There are gender gaps on many aspects of technology use. For example, in 20 nations, men are more likely than women to use the internet. These differences are especially stark in African nations. Elsewhere, equal shares of men and women use the internet. But large gender gaps also appear on reported smartphone ownership (men are more likely to own a smartphone) in many countries, including Mexico (+16), Nigeria (+13), Kenya (+12) and Ghana (+12).”
Earlier this month I headed off for the London launch of the 2016 World Development Report, ‘Digital Dividends’. The World Bank’s annual flagship is always a big moment in wonkland, and there has been a lot of positive buzz around this one.
Here’s how the Bank summarizes its content (Frequently Asked Questions, pg. 5):
"What is the Report about? It explores the impact of the internet, mobile phones, and related technologies on economic development.
What are the digital dividends? Growth, jobs, and services are the most important returns to digital investments." (pg. 5)
How do digital technologies promote development and generate digital dividends? By reducing information costs, digital technologies greatly lower the cost of economic and social transactions for firms, individuals, and the public sector. They promote innovation when transaction costs fall to essentially zero. They boost efficiency as existing activities and services become cheaper, quicker, or more convenient. And they increase inclusion as people get access to services that previously were out of reach.
Why does the Report argue that digital dividends are not spreading rapidly enough? For two reasons. First, nearly 60 percent of the world’s people are still offline and can’t fully participate in the digital economy. There also are persistent digital divides across gender, geography, age, and income dimensions within each country. Second, some of the perceived benefits of the internet are being neutralized by new risks. Vested business interests, regulatory uncertainty, and limited contestation across digital platforms could lead to harmful concentration in many sectors. Quickly expanding automation, even of mid-level office jobs, could contribute to a hollowing out of labor markets and to rising inequality. And the poor record of many e-government initiatives points to high failure of ICT projects and the risk that states and corporations could use digital technologies to control citizens, not to empower them.
According to the press statement announcing the report, the…
…report says that while the internet, mobile phones and other digital technologies are spreading rapidly throughout the developing world, the anticipated digital dividends of higher growth, more jobs, and better public services have fallen short of expectations, and 60 percent of the world’s population remains excluded from the ever-expanding digital economy. According to the new ‘World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends,’ authored by Co-Directors, Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann and team, the benefits of rapid digital expansion have been skewed towards the wealthy, skilled, and influential around the world, who are better positioned to take advantage of the new technologies. In addition, though the number of internet users worldwide has more than tripled since 2005, four billion people still lack access to the internet.
In what follows, I am going to discuss a small part of the report that I am particularly interested in. And that is the vexed subject of internet governance. As we all know by now, the dream of the founders of the internet was that it would be a libertarian paradise and a virtual monument to a transcendent cosmopolitanism: a truly free and borderless world. Sadly, all kinds of companies and governments are turning the internet into something else entirely. How to govern the internet is now a bone of discord.