Musing from your Post Master General
Can you imagine life without the internet? If people like Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg have it their way, there wont be a soul on the planet who will know what that is like. On August 21st, Zuckerberg and Facebook along with corporate partners Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung announced what some perceived to be a groundbreaking project entitled internet.org. According to a press release, the goal of internet.org is “to make internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today.”
It seems crazy to think about, but the fact of the matter is most of the world does not have regular access to the web Once again, according to the press release, “[t]oday, only 2.7 billion people – just over one-third of the world’s population—have access to the internet..” That leaves two-thirds of the people on Earth unconnected. I can’t imagine living a day, much less a lifetime without web access. Though sometimes, I’m forced to feel what it’s like, if only for a brief moment.
Over the Labor Day weekend, I spent some time with friends at a home on the North Shore of Long Island in an area that remarkably still lacks clear cell phone service. This is certainly not the two-thirds Zuckerberg was referring to and I understood this as I looked out at the Long Island Sound awaiting a fun filled day of wine tasting, Clearly I don’t live the lifestyle comparable to someone suffering in the developing world. I simply could have gone inside and logged into the house computer if I needed to check my email but I’ve become spoiled. I am used to having access at my fingertips at all times.
As an information addict, it’s become somewhat of a habit of mine to look up anything from sports scores, news, random facts and questions that pop through my mind with the web access from my smart phone affords me. Not that it was difficult to adjust to not having that liberty, but it certainly wasn’t business as usual. I felt like I had an itch I couldn’t scratch. I ended up taking a pad from kitchen and jotting down all the items I needed to look up later. At some point, to distract myself, I cracked open a 1981 edition of Trivial Pursuit that was sitting still in the plastic wrap under a coffee table and read the questions out loud( I’m sure annoying the rest of the company in the process) seeing which ones I knew and which ones I didn’t.
Maybe I am an extreme example but there is no question that easy web access has altered all our lives, for better or for worse. Am I more intelligent because I can look everything up? Probably not, but I certainly know more than I would have without it. And of course, we don’t just use the internet for facts and information. Mostly we use the web for checking for Facebook updates or tweeting about our dinners. The internet has become an important part of our everyday lives, but at the same time, it has become a trivial distraction. Do we really want the rest of the world to fall into the same traps that we have fallen into? There is something unfulfilling about a life measured by Facebook likes.
Trust me, I do enjoy the internet for the communication factor. As I am typing this, I can send a message to friends in Europe and Asia and as long as they are awake and I haven’t annoyed them in a previous conversation, I will get an instant response. What perhaps is even more remarkable is the fact that we can talk about Katy Perry, for example, and everyone will know who and what I am talking about. The exchange of information is somewhat remarkable and unheard of even ten years ago. Sure, places like Europe were aware of what was going on in America ten years ago and vice versa, but the rate in which culture traveled was much slower.
But is this cultural diffusion a good thing? Part of what makes the world a great place is its differences. There is something beautiful about connected and global world. But there is something equally as beautiful about embracing the different music, food, texture, and ideas of all 6 billion of us. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like fusion cuisine, but sometimes I just want to eat either Japanese or Brazilian food, not both at the same time. I don’t know if I can stomach the complete death of cultures who have yet to be influenced by the internet but perhaps a future of a global pop culture is unavoidable.
This homogeny reminds me of that old Coca-Cola commercial where it is somehow implied that if everyone in the world drank Coke (is there any bigger symbol of American corporate conquest than a Coca-Cola Classic?) than the world would be a better place. Nothing again coke, but I like a world where people drink Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Jones’s, or whatever they want. They should probably be drinking something healthier but I suppose that is their choice. Come to think of it, a lot of the world has problems getting clean drinking water, Coca-Cola is probably the last thing on their mind.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, when commenting on a similar project spearheaded by Google called Project Loon, said to Bloomberg Businessweek “[w]hen you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you.” Project Loon aims to connect rural and under-served areas to the web through the use of hot air balloons among other innovations. Gates, whose Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has concentrated its efforts more on the eradication of developing world diseases, was chiding Google’s choice of charity donation and focus. Perhaps web access shouldn’t be the priority for people in developing nations and rather basic needs like food, water and health care should be considered paramount. And let’s be frank, through universal connectivity, people may benefit and perhaps even address be able to address their basic needs a little bit easier, but those who could benefit more may be the cooperation’s controlling web access programs as 4.5 billion more people on the internet equals 4.5 billion potential new customers in one way or another.
I’m not going to discount the importance of connectivity when it comes to the spreading of freedom. People should be able to view all the information and choices when deciding who should run their governments for example. The internet allows for a diverse set of opinions rather than one controlled by the people in power. Ideally, access to the internet can forward causes like free speech and human rights. The internet can serve as a library as well, serving as a resource for farmers in need of field guides as an example. However, in places like China, a country with the highest number of internet users still limiting its web freedoms and access, can the internet really serve its purpose? Connectivity can not champion freedom and information if it’s viewed through the lens of a one-party government.
Even with a government like ours here in the United States, the web can be used as a tool to keep tabs on its citizens. The recent NSA leaks are evidence of this. With more web access comes more freedom, but ironically, even in a society such as ours, connectivity may come with a price. The increased sharing of information through electronic means gives the government more freedom to keep tabs on ours. Will this lead to a safer world or will our nation cross the line? Has it already crossed the line?
Regardless of our opinions on the matter, there seems to be nothing stopping the Earth from shrinking through an increasingly connected communication network. There is hope that with more electronic dialogue the perception of our differences may morph into a global understanding and help us embrace what sets up apart rather than using it to alienate and hurt each other. The more opinions we share, the more ideas can be born. Every human being wants a place and a voice and the internet gives us this.
And who am I to say who should be able to be connected and who shouldn’t be? I live in the country leading the web revolution and I certainly use the internet as a platform to express my ideas. I believe a person has the right to choose whether or not to be connected and how connected they want to be. It is important to remember though; the internet is like the Wild West. Just because there is information on it, doesn’t mean it’s accurate information. People need to learn to weigh all the odds and make the best possible choices for themselves and their community.
Still, there will come a time when I miss those moments where I couldn’t log on like this weekend. Maybe one day I will have the strength just to say no. It’s ironic how I love the freedoms this country offers yet after the initial withdrawal, I am relieved when the freedom of information and communication offered to me through the internet is taken away from me. Perhaps in the future, when the world is 99% connected, people will pay large sums of money just to find that last 1% and relax for a couple of days without a care in the world. Could a future travel market be emerging? Isolation tourism? All I know is that things in the future will be much different than they are today. I can only hope that projects like internet.org and Project Loon will help usher in a new age of human progress.
Don’t forget to like me on Facebook, and follow me on twitter @ClashMcCoy. And for the sake of this blog, stay connected everybody.
photo courtesy of theverge.com. Video courtesy of youtube.