Question: Internet and online media structures: discourses of domination or diversity? Arguably, the Internet and Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been seen as novel instruments that provide nations in the ‘developing world’ with further economic development opportunities. On the 4th of July 2016, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that classified access to the Internet as a fundamental basic human right, by adding to the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) the following statement: “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”. The new resolution recognizes “the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms, including in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”; besides it acknowledges the great potential of the spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness “to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies.
” Yet, here comes a list of evident questions to deconstruct this quixotic discourse of ICTs and development. Is the Internet really open in its nature? Does the Internet really accelerate progress towards development or does it contribute to the existing international development narrative? Who owns the Internet and to what extent does this alleged global interconnectedness and acceleration of development fall under their agendas? To address these questions, this essay will enquire into the infrastructure of the Internet and ICTs, the political economy of the digital, and the status of the development narrative within the digital connectivity context. Infra-Structures of Divide To entry point to unpack terms like digital technologies, ICTs, etc. is to look at their whereabouts and where they originated from, in other words to look at he infrastructure of the Internet.
“Technology does not exist in vacuum” (Mendelsohn, 2012), and the Internet is evidently physical. This physicality–although might be different from old conventional tools in terms of its engineered technological constituents, which might make it look invisible– still serves the same purpose of ensuring and empowering human communication. This relatively ‘new’ communication model was the outcome of the Infrastructure, hardware, software behind digital technologies were developed in the US and in Europe The Global South has historically been a recipient and user of such technologies digital technologies originated in the West, especially the United States and the UK; the GS was typically a recipient and user of such innovations.
.. around the end of the second millennium of the common era a number of major social, technological, economic, and cultural transformations came together to give rise to a new form of society, the network society… The sense of disorientation is compounded by radical changes in the realm of communication, derived from the revolution in communication technologies.
The shift from traditional mass media to a system of horizontal communication networks organized around the Internet and wireless communication has introduced a multiplicity of communication patterns at the source of a fundamental cultural transformation, as virtuality becomes an essential dimension of our reality.” (Castells, 2010:xvii)”The “digital divide”— the divide between those with access to new technologies and those without — is now one of America’s leading economic and civil rights issues” (U.S.
Department of Commerce, 1999: Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide.)”I believe that the key to the Internet’s success was a commitment to flexibility and diversity, both in technical design and in organizational culture. No one could predict the specific changes that would revolutionize the computing and communications industries at the end of the twentieth century.
A network architecture designed to accommodate a variety of computing technologies, combined with an informal and inclusive management style, gave the Internet system the ability to adapt to an unpredictable environment.” (Abbate 1999:6)And this is only one face of technological disparity, given that the gaping hole has other severe faces that go beyond the classification and functionality of devices to more fundamental areas, such as accessibility of the internet at the first place, as well as the affordability and the quality of the service.Although mobile phones might stand out as a good example of a leapfrogger, a wide-ranging view on technologies gives the impression that the ‘frog’ may have crossed over some milestones but has barely caught the tip of the desired lily pad. Napoli & Obar’s argument on mobile phones’ connectivity as an “inferior form of Internet access” (Napoli & Obar, 2014), is an eye opener on the micro level of the digital divide.To question the very idea of fairness in a digital economy context. Stemming from what we have been learning so far, digital depictions adhere not only to the available digital infrastructures but also to economic regulations and policies in a specific place at a given time.
It is also largely shaped by what Graham calls “the grounded geographies of digital work… and the political economy of digital labour” (Graham, 2017: 138). Consequently, before thinking of how can the digital economy be made “fairer”, shouldn’t we inspect if it is actually fair at the first place? The electronic fraud in Nigeria’s cashless ecosystem (Tade & Adeniyi, IMTFI 2016), is a good example that illustrates the unbalanced nature of the digital economy activities both on the infrastructure and policies level. “The weak governance at the level of both banking institutions and regulating agencies, in addition to the needed “improvements in the security infrastructure” made the cashless ecosystem an inequitable one.It appears to me that the glitches in the ‘digital’ might make it hard for it to be characterized by fairness. On a separate note, it comes into view that this is not solely a developing countries issue, rather a worldwide matter.
The guiding principle of the digital economy fuel, the internet, is currently at risk in countries such as the US. With the current debate on net neutrality and the possibility of giving ISPs the mastery over the internet, serious questions are being raised on the fairness of any digital activity.The Internet that was originally were driven by the United States post-war to survive and the United Kingdom’s strive for growth, is currently driven by commercial tech giants forces that are pushing the development of information technology and the course of the Internet. Tech Giants, the New Joiners of the Development Game”We know where you have been. We can more or less know what you are thinking about.” These are Eric Schmidt’s words, the Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc.
–the biggest digital conglomerate in the world and owner of Google, DeepMind, Nest, and other ventures, with a net income that exceeded 19.47 billion USD in 2016. In this statement Schmidt alludes to not only the power that a conglomerate like Alphabet has in terms of knowing people but also its ability to engineer their minds. Such big conglomerates heavily rely on big data to develop their products and embed their model of dominance. Therefore, the more you connect people the bigger is your harvested data. This have driven tech giants like Google, Facebook, and other to also embarked in on their own distinctive missions to develop the underdeveloped countries It’s a clear-cut factuality, that data collection is the fuel of commercial tech giants with an optimal business model of data monetization and commercial surveillance is a cost that the user pays by signing-up to these services for free, I would argue that it is not the only cost and probably not the highest-risk one.
A considerable price of using these free services is ‘Algorithms’ Manipulation”. In her recently released talk on “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads” TED Talk, Turkish academic Zeynep Tufekci (2017) says “we are building this infrastructure of surveillance authoritarianism merely to get people to click on ads”. So the bill goes beyond being watched, to being orchestrated by some sort of machines.What is even more intriguing is what Tufekci (2017) referred to as “lack of transparency created by the proprietary algorithms”, a point that Wolfie and Spiekermann (2016) mentioned too by stating “while users become more and more transparent, corporate data mining practices remain largely obscure.
” This factor is equally important when addressing the ‘power imbalances’ issue between users and data corporates because “as long as data and algorithms are secret, it is not possible to even notice or prove discrimination (Wolfie and Spiekermann, 2016).This made me think of Leo Marx’s argument on ‘technology as a hazardous concept’. He also connected it to this idea of “complexity and obscurity of the legal relations governing the use of our technologies…” and the “reliance on instrumental standards of judgment, and a corresponding neglect of moral and political standards” (Marx, 1997).Cultural Diversity