The enduring understanding from week five of the second COETAIL course is bugging me.
The communication tools that exist today are powerful mediums to help spread positive change and global awareness.
I don’t disagree with it. That is not my problem. I totally agree that the internet is an extremely powerful tool for communication and as a source of knowledge.
My problem is the assumptions that people are making with such a statement. It worries me that people may even be unaware of the assumptions they are making in the first place and I think this can be very dangerous.
What makes the internet so powerful?
If you are reading this, chances are that you already know the answer to this question. When I was in high school in the 80’s, doing research meant going to the library. I was a bit of a geek at school in the old fashioned sense of the word, meaning that I liked books. The only day I ever “wagged” school, was to go into the city to the state library to work on a paper for History. But libraries were limited to the books that they contained.
Right now, sitting in front of my computer in my comfy chair at home, I have access to every library in the world. My only reason to wag school has disappeared.
The internet is more than just a massive library though. It is also a communications tool which is unparalleled in history. The ease of with which you can keep in touch with people you know and reach out to people you don’t, makes for a whole new world.
What assumptions are we making?
With statements like the understanding I mentioned above, we are making two very big assumptions.
- Internet access is widespread if not universal
- The vast majority of human experience is captured in one form or another on the internet
Below is a map indicating global internet access taken from The World Bank.
As you can see, the dark continent is not living up to its name on this map. What I found surprising from these statistics is that Asia, which is far more developed than Africa on many levels, is also pretty much unplugged with the exception of Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
To put this in terms of numbers, the chart below also created from statistics provided by the World Bank, shows the three most populous countries in the world compared to the world average for the number of people in every 100 who have internet access. I also included Ghana as an African representative as it has one of the strongest economies of the sub-saharan African nations and although the majority of African countries have figures below that of Ghana, I wanted to present the best case scenario for the region. I also just love the country!
The world average is 33 people per 100 having internet access. China rates just above the world average and India is well below yet their populations combined is almost half the world population.
There is a common misconception about the ease of internet access across the developing world and this is due to the explosion of mobile phone usage in these regions. And it is true that I had better mobile phone coverage in Ghana than I still do in Australia where my mobile doesn’t work at my mother’s house, one hour from the city of Perth and 20 minutes from the nearest urban development! But just to be clear, the phones that people (especially in rural areas) in Ghana are using are these.
They are definitely not these!
They buy credit for their phones in one dollar amounts and basically use the phone to “flash” (see number 20 for the definition) people rather than actually call them because talking uses up their credit too fast.
You can purchase dongles that use the mobile phone network to connect your computer to the internet but this relies on having a computer in the first place which is just not the case for the majority of people. The dongle uses the credit the same as the mobile phone and this is just an expense that most people can’t afford.
Be aware of the limitations of the internet
So when only a third of the population has access to and can communicate using the internet, how does that change the validity of the enduring understanding we have for this course especially when the phrase global awareness is included?
Where I come from in Australia and I suspect for the majority of people who come from highly developed countries, people are blissfully unaware of the realities of life for millions of people, especially those living in the world’s poorest countries in Africa and Asia. The problem is, we don’t realise that we are unaware. On the contrary, we think that we are well informed because of media reports and information that we can gather from the internet. I certainly did.
Don’t be complacent. Don’t think that because you have this amazing, awesome, powerful tool at your finger tips, that you can find out anything, that you can experience everything, that you can know what is to live anywhere or be anyone.
The internet has limitations. Until a vast majority of people have access to it, you are not seeing the whole truth of human existence. With two thirds of the worlds population, the only way to really understand their lives, is to unplug, get off your arse and physically go to them. Talk with them, sing with them, eat with them, work with them, live with them and most importantly, learn from them. It will definitely change your life and if you are very, very lucky, in some very small way, it might change theirs too.