Having spent some time travelling to the other side of the world recently, I have come to think about the role of Internet, content and technology a bit differently than before. The key lesson has been how useless the promises of various media and service ecosystems are, if you cannot access them. You might have bought access to a streaming media service that would be really useful for you and your family while you are away from your friends and family, but you cannot use it, since streaming media is just extremely expensive. Or you might go out and buy a DVD or Blu-ray, but you cannot play it on your device, since it is coming from another “Area” than that of the content you just bought. It is no matter if you try using your iTunes content, something that you could buy from Google Play, or from Microsoft – all those shiny devices and smart services are inherently fragile, dependent on whether there is an open Wi-Fi hotspot somewhere (probably with a 50 megabyte/30 minutes download cap), where you could try to make them run for a moment.
Having to admit that living with unlimited Internet broadband in a well-connected Western country definitely frames this issue as a “First World Problem”, but the lack of a global, pervasive Internet backbone is an issue larger than that. As long as our network technologies are based on high-speed access that is restricted to few urban centres, the true usefulness and radically democratizing potential of Internet and connected services remains limited at best. We need much more ambitious endeavours to get the entire planed connected: this is an issue that can be backed up by commercial, political and even ecological reasons. Establishing solid, reliable links between people living in their villages in the South and the North as well as in the East and the West, can promote local empowerment as well as global collaboration and exchange that is qualitative leap over the current situation.
Satellite data is prohibitively expensive today, but if the initiatives in this area would be given a high enough priority, there is no stopping us having a truly networked world where the global “infosphere” of sharing and communication would be available on equal basis, regardless of the geographical location.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all readers of this blog!