Imagine if you had WiFi on the bus on the way to work. How would you use your time differently? While for most American’s, the answer is “no much differently”, for Africans who seldom, if ever, have an Internet connection, an hour or two of Internet connection on the way to work could profounder alter that way they communicate. For some Africans in Kenya, WiFi on buses is becoming a reality.
The numbers are truly quite astounding: only 16% of Africans use the Internet, included 50% of Kenyans. This is in contrast to the 15% of Americans who don’t use the Internet according to a recent Pew study on the topic. The same study indicates that just 4% of Americans can’t afford or don’t have access to the Internet (which although quite small still seems high to someone like me who uses the Internet all the time.) Only 32% of Asians use the internet, making it next-to-last in internet connectivity.
As a generation that has grown up in the Internet Age, I think we sometimes forgot how essential the internet is in our everyday lives, and how many little things it does for us. We use it as a calculator, a map, a dictionary, an encyclopedia, an entertainment source, and a place of commerce. For African’s, even internet with limited bandwidth could give them access to Google Translate, allowing them to communicate with those who speak a different tongue. With the recent rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Africans with internet access have access to a large amount of education resources that could bring them out of poverty. Frankly, for a society that is many years behind our own technologically, the Internet really serves as a great equalizer of knowledge and technology.
The undeniable fact is that the internet is a powerful tool, and the worldwide marketplace that it creates had spurred business development across the globe over the past quarter century. Unfortunately, many Africans cannot afford what most Americans see as a necessity. In have stepped many of the technology giants: Facebook, Google, IBM, and Intel have all begun work to make phone and internet service cheaper in Africa. Whether out of altruism, or in order to plant seeds for economic prosperity in the future, these companies are helping to bring many Africans into the Internet age.
Google has taken a particular interest in connecting Africa to the Internet, and even has its own blog about their progress in the Sub-Saharan region. Perhaps their grandest idea is Google Loon, a project that would use balloons floating above the continent to bring WiFi to people all over Africa, or even the globe. Although Loon might not be a reality in the near future, this kind of innovative approach certainly gives a fresh take on how to provide people everywhere with the Internet.
As someone who has grown up in what is an increasing global age, where commerce stretches across national lines like never before, an improvement in technology, even across the globe, will lead to a more efficient economy, and more worldwide economic equality. Africa, the continent that really lags behind the rest of the world (and has for a long time), is about to have their time on the world stage in the next century, and at the center of Africa’s technological revolution is the Internet. If, or when, the majority of Africans have access to the Internet, I believe their economies will start to flourish like never before, and that day will be a great day not only for Africa, but for the entire world.