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Is the Internet as Popular as We Think?

06 Nov 14:00 by Joshua Hill

Someone using an IPad and Computer

For many in the UK, not being 'connected' to the internet means not having it at home, either through choice or cost. So if you wanted to access it, likelihood is you would source other options such as at a public library or a friend's house. For the almost 50% of the world that are not online, the ability to connect is much more difficult. In some countries, for example, the internet is wired to where they live, but they can't afford a computer or smartphone to use it (Guardian).

In 2014, the UN predicted that half the world would be online by 2017, so it is interesting that since 2015 the growth of internet users worldwide has dropped dramatically (Guardian). This is a concern as those that aren't connected inevitably miss out on public debates, academic opportunities as well as everyday things we take for granted like controlling our finances with internet banking. Further to this, there seems to be a widening gender gap when it comes to internet access. This is magnified in patriarchal societies where half of the people surveyed believed men should be able to restrict what women do online. We are currently living in a world where technology is progressing quickly, so why isn't getting the whole world online a priority?

Predictably, one of the major causes of the slowdown in users is cost. Some people don't see the physical value of the information they would receive as they have not used it before. Due to minimal disposable income, it is hard to justify the cost of a smartphone and internet connection. To counteract this Mark Zuckerberg piloted a technology called 'Free Basics by Facebook'. People were given free access to twenty websites (including Zuckerberg owned sites; Facebook and WhatsApp) that gave them access to world news, education and healthcare services. Although a great initiative, it was widely criticised. Some accused Facebook of spreading 'fake news' about ethnic and religious violence, which has since meant many other technology giants have stayed away from similar ventures.

On the other hand, some believe that a lack of relevant content is the reason for the stunted growth. A recent study showed that nearly everyone in Brazil had the ability to access mobile internet, but only 52% of people chose to. Out of those people, 70% stated a lack of interest in the content online as the reason not to use it (Internet Society). This is not surprising as the native language of Brazil is Portuguese yet over 50% of web pages are in English (World Economic Forum). Websites like Google are offering good quality translation tools, so if education could be provided on how to use them, there is potential that interest in being online could increase.

The conclusion to draw from this is that potentially the lack of growth is not due to one outstanding factor. Cost, interest and education are all varying aspects in different areas of the world. If governing bodies focus on the downsides (data breach scandals, fake news and inappropriate content) they may see little valuing in investing in technology to support access. The attention needs to be shifted to show the benefits the internet can provide when used responsibly. The internet has revolutionised communication for those who have embraced it and has become an indispensable catalyst for the economy.