Driving back from the Grand Canyon earlier last month, it hit me how much I depended on the internet and technology to gain and share my knowledge. I realized this at the Grand Canyon because there was no cellular signal to Snapchat my surroundings, message my friends or get answers to questions. Surrounding me was nothing but wilderness.
I was thinking of everything I could do to make a living if I was stranded out here. Usually, programming would be at the top of my list on my survival skills. You sit behind a computer, write some lines of code, and make money to lead a decent life. However, without the internet, my profession suddenly becomes very limited in scope. All of the services I'm used to, such as Uber, Google, and Facebook become obsolete. These services play an integral part of my daily life, and even the thought of imagining a life without them is frightening. However, it's astonishing that only less than half of the world has access to the internet. It's astonishing that half of the world has never experienced what it means to search the web, to stream a video or engage in a call that involves video.
There are many reasons that can be attributed to the lack of internet adoption from different parts of the developing world.
- Language - The internet, including most domain names, are based on Latin scripture. English being the predominant standard across most of the globe for keyboards and default text. Given the spectrum global diversity, it doesn't make much sense for anyone who can't speak English or understand the scripture to adopt internet usage. A great example would be my grandma. She uses our Ipad to communicate with us from India, however, she's unable to read what the text says because she can't read English, so often I find myself teaching her how to use the Ipad based on colors and symbols.
Now language is a problem that can be solved. Although it might not be resolved in generation X(The older Generation), it will be resolved in generation Y, given they are exposed to English and the English Alphabet. However, generation Y has a problem that still needs to be resolved.
- Access to Internet Connected Devices - The impending problem for the generation Y, the youth, isn't the language barrier, it's whether or not they have access to these devices from a young age. Given the scope of computers, the importance of programming for the future and all that computers have to offer, it is a no-brainer that every child must learn how to use a computer if he wants to thrive in the developed world. However, the child of a poor farmer in Africa, Asia, never gets the access he needs because computers are expensive. It doesn't make sense for a farmer to invest in a computer. Even if he has access to the internet, it does no good if he doesn't know how to use a computer or read. Public schools often don't receive the fundings they need to purchase computers, much less build facilities to operate more than a limited number.
Initiatives to bring the internet to everyone exist. I'm looking at you Facebook and Google. Internet.org and Project Loon exist to offer internet connectivity to everyone, but without having the education on how to use these devices, it doesn't make sense to invest one. It's like broadcasting television channels to people who don't even have a television yet. To an extent, it's a little futile. Don't get me wrong, building the infrastructure for the internet makes a lot of sense. It's an investment for the future; however, why build infrastructure when you don't have the user base. People, especially those of the developing countries, don't realize the potential of a device that they can't use and don't have. Why are we laying out tracks for the steam train, if the steam engine hasn't even been introduced yet?
My Proposed Solution
What if we could give away devices that could connect to the internet for free? Everyone deserves access to internet, but the most obvious barrier is the lack of device. However, the problem with a lack of devices isn't much different than the problem we have with world hunger.
The Hunger Analogy
We, as a planet, have the capability to produce twice as much food the global population needs, yet 1 in 9 people go to bed in starvation. Ridiculous right? People are starving when we have more than enough food. Why? Why are people starving? It's because of distribution. Food is produced, but there is not proper way to distribute food evenly to everyone. The balance among the countries and much of the globe is going to remain unbalanced. The same thing for computers and technology, we don't have the right means to evenly distribute technology evenly across the various markets. Pricing, political standards and cultural differences can account for the differences in adoption and proliferation of computers and technology across the globe.
However, the one key thing that sets a computer apart from food, is that a computer has a longer lifespan (No preservatives needed). This means, that computers donated from one part of the world, can be set up and used elsewhere. The world is almost like a timeline, the Western part gets the latest technology first and the rest of the world including developing nations get the same technology later. If we could create a solution that could take the older devices of the developed nations and give them to the developing nations, we could bridge a barrier. Now this isn't new. In fact, it's called donating computers. We need to establish a system where it becomes easy to donate computers or salvage older parts. However, the cost of transporting these computers and the infrastructure to distribute them requires some pretty solid cash.
That's where the internet comes in. What good does a lousy computer in a village do without connecting to the internet? Nothing right? So what if every internet connection in the developing world was bundled with a free computer. That's right! Subscribe to internet with us, and get a free computer. That way the internet becomes adopted to and available to lot of people. In addition, if computers such as the Raspberry Pi Zero (it's only $5) become more accessible, I'm sure that computers can become so cheap that everyone who purchases access to the internet can get a free computer. Ambitious? I think so. Possbile? Yes, very possible. Let's give away "free" computers.