A largely unchallenged assumption is that the Internet can change people’s lives. However, it is very important to question this assumption and understand exactly how this technology, that most of us take for granted, changes the way we live, work, communicate and touches almost every other aspect of our lives.
“We know that, for every one person who gets access to the Internet, one new job gets created, and one person gets lifted out of poverty. So in theory, going and connecting everyone on the Internet is a large national and even global priority.” -Mark Zuckerberg
Discussing the power of Internet access is very difficult to put into words, but the Ammbr Whitepaper, published last year, summarises the various advantages of connectivity as follows:
“Ever since the Internet as we know it today began in 1993, the world has changed considerably as a direct result of the widespread adoption of this disruptive communication network. Messages could be sent and received in a matter of seconds, information could be found in the blink of an eye, and out-of-home activities such as shopping could be done completely in-home. While in 2018, the Internet plays a role in virtually every angle of the lives of individuals in developed nations; it still remains the case for some population segments that the Internet is not available to them at all.”
From this, we can derive a simple hypothesis: People that have uninterrupted access to the Internet have more privileges than people who do not. The axiomatic conclusion, therefore, is that the Internet is a catalyst for prosperity. This is not to say that, if you can give a person access to the Internet, they will simply pull themselves out of the so-called poverty cycle and their lives will change overnight. However, socioeconomic struggles are the result of numerous factors, operating simultaneously in a state of chaos. They are singular components of an engine powering the wheel that drives the deeply entrenched inequalities that are prevalent in the global order. The Internet can be used as a tool to tackle a number of these challenges and, if correctly applied, users can pump the brakes to stop the vehicle.
In the 2016 OECD report on the “Economic and social benefits of internet openness”, the various advantages of Internet “openness” are effectively split into two categories: economic benefits and social benefits. For the former, Internet access serves as a great facilitator for International trade, innovation and entrepreneurship, and improved macroeconomic performance. For the later, Internet openness enables many opportunities for enriching social wellbeing, such as communication with family, access to educational resources, healthcare, the exchange of knowledge, ideas and interests, the ability to passively receive information, as well as a greater capacity for freedom of expression.
Economically, the Internet is an incredible platform for both small and big businesses. Any person looking to start a business will have access to resources that will help him or her get their business off the ground. They can learn how to write up a business plan and use social media platforms to grow their brands and improve exposure. It is also easier to connect with prospective clients or investors. For better-established businesses, Internet access makes it possible to extend the business’ reach to an international market. It makes it easier for suppliers to connect with existing consumers who are located beyond the borders of the supplier’s home country (or countries) and by improving logistics control. These factors stimulate a flourishing market with increased competition and lower barriers to entry. The creativity, cost savings, and new business models enabled by the Internet’s openness can reveal themselves at the macroeconomic level through boosts to productivity and growth. And such changes have a ripple effect that perpetuates prosperity throughout the market as a whole.
In developing nations, the Internet can facilitate development. In even the most disadvantaged populations around the world, there is a business opportunity and an individual or group of people that have the capacity to take advantage of said opportunities. Even someone that conducts the simplest of business operations, like street vendors, can make their businesses “searchable” and attract additional customers. They can learn the basics of stocktaking or bookkeeping. Whatever it may be, there is potential for growth, and increased revenues and profit margins.
Increased economic prosperity has an automatic knockoff effect in terms of social benefits, such as a reduction in crime, because many crimes are well known to be a result of economic hardship. There are several other subsequent positive effects of improved economic status, such as greater awareness of environmental impacts. There is a greater propensity to take action on more sustainable approaches to individual consumption and waste management. Many plaudits, in fact, propose that the best way to tackle climate change is to eradicate poverty.
Furthermore, the knock-on social effects will be augmented by various other functions that the Internet can facilitate. One of them is education. E-learning can reduce the cost and increase the availability and quality of education in developing and developed countries alike.
The way that the Internet can revolutionise our approach to education is astounding. Improving education systems, while opening access, is paramount to improving lives and lifting people out of poverty.
Healthcare can benefit from the Internet in a very similar manner. Access to healthcare, especially in far-flung rural areas, where the nearest hospitals are several hours away by car (if you’re lucky enough to own one), is an issue all over the world. Telemedicine, the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical health care from a distance, is starting to gain traction as a means to overcome distance barriers and to improve access to medical services. And, in the not-so-distant future, there’s a possibility that it won’t even be a human that gives patients health advice, but artificially intelligent platforms that are available at all times. Similar disruptive technologies like remote surgery, enabled by advances in robotics, can also be enabled through access to the Internet, but it is difficult to predict the future and telemedicine on its own already has the power to cause massive disruption and make quality healthcare accessible to all.
Finally, there is the positive effect that Internet connectivity can have on democratic principles. Through the free exchange of ideas, access to information and a greater capacity to freely express oneself, core pillars of a successful democracy are upheld. Any individual will be able to access the news at no cost, typically, and will therefore be able to hold their leaders to account. Facilitating the consolidation of democracy through freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of information will go a long way to holding the leaders of developing nations accountable for their failures, which can often be overlooked by poorly informed citizens in some of these nation states.
With all of this said, there are still a host of considerations that need to be made before rolling out technologies. As those of us with Internet access already know, there are several dangers associated with online activity. Financial transactions, for example, while easier to conduct online, are far more susceptible to fraudulent actors and phishing than a cash transaction would be and cybercrime is becoming more and more prevalent as the Internet’s user base grows.
The media has also taken the spotlight in recent years as a victim of the digital migration. A new model that uses pay-per-click advertisements, for example, has replaced the sustainable subscription-based financial models that kept newspapers in business 20 years ago. The integrity of news stories has subsequently been compromised. The struggle to keep media outlets financially stable and profitable has resulted in a blurring of the lines for the ethical framework that is so crucial for the preservation of responsible journalism. This has resulted in the spread of misinformation and a general lack of trust in the media as a whole.
And when it comes to education and healthcare, who will be auditing classes to ensure that teachers are doing their jobs and that students are paying attention? And at what point do we say that a doctor needs to physically intervene in order to keep their patients healthy? These are just a few of the questions that will be raised over time.
And how can someone that is the victim of decades, if not centuries, of structural economic disenfranchisement understand what it would take to start a business purely through online services? For somebody that has received no formal education, barely has access to electricity and has lived in the same area for their entire life, taking advantage of various online facilities is not an easy task by any means. Breaking down barriers, educating and providing vocational training programs is fundamental to creating a foundation on top of which someone can truly take advantage of the power of the Internet.
The Ammbr team has been and will continue to build the foundations that will make this dream a reality.