The theme of this 10th edition of the Global Information Technology Report is “Transformations 2.0.” And a large theme of this report every year- and the basis for why it is relevant- are the connections it draws between economic development and information and communication technologies (ICT). Namely,
“The next decade will see the global Internet transformed from an arena dominated by advanced countries, their businesses, and citizens, to one where emerging economies will become predominant. As more citizens in these economies go online and connectivity levels approach those of advanced markets, the global shares of Internet activity and transactions will increasingly shift toward the former.” (page x)
As the report repeats (ad nauseum) in each of its otherwise excellent, guest-authored chapters, increased traction and penetration of ICT in developing countries and emerging economies is dependent upon two factors:
1) “the availability of personal computers (PCs),” and
2) “the density of pre-existing phone lines and cable”
Which is interesting on its own, because as Chapter 2, authored by Enrique Rueda-Sabater and John Garrity of Cisco Systems, Inc. asserts, the adoption or existence of PCs isn’t necessarily a precondition to the use of ICT. In fact, many emerging economies in Africa have leapfrogged PC ownership and moved straight into robust mobile internet access with limited or no access to PCs.
Each of these chapters seeks to answer deeper questions provoked by this positive correlation between ICT and economic development.
“we continue to be challenged by questions that were raised by John Gage of Sun Microsystems in the first edition of the GITR: “Can we apply ICT to improve the condition of each individual? Can ICT, designed for one-to- one links in telephone networks, or for one-to-many links in radio and television networks, serve to bond us all? And how can new forms of ICT—peer-to-peer, edge-to-edge, many-to-many networks—change the relationship between each one of us and all of us?” (page 3)
It is the new forms of ICT that this report largely focuses on, and in so doing introduces an interesting subset of factors to consider in evaluating new communications media:
“Transformations 2.0 are difficult to accurately envisage, evolving technology trends are pointing to the most likely directions they will take over the next few years—what we term as the move toward SLIM ICT:
• S for social: ICT is becoming more intricately linked to people’s behaviors and social networks. The horizons of ICT are expanding from traditional processes and automation themes to include a human and social focus.
• L for local: Geography and local context are becoming important. ICT provides an effective medium for linking people and objects (and processes) with local environments. This will allow differentiation across local contexts and the provision of tailored services.
• I for intelligent: ICT will become even more intelligent. People’s behaviors, individual preferences, and object interactions among other elements will be more easily stored, analyzed, and used to provide intelligent insights for action.
• M for mobile: The wide adoption of the mobile phone has already brought ICT to the masses. Advances in hardware (screens, batteries, and so on), software (e.g., natural language interfaces), and communications (e.g., broadband wireless) will continue to make computing more mobile and more accessible.” (page 29)
There’s nothing absolutely groundbreaking here, or even new, really. But it is an interesting subset within which to view evolving and emerging economies.
I can already think of a number of people who would say that these lenses are actually partially contradictory- for instance, “mobile” and “local” seem at odds with each other from one vantage point, since mobile access allows anyone to reach out globally across previously restrictive limits of space and time, contradicting the notion that geography and context are becoming increasingly important.
Still, one of the most exciting things about emerging communications technology and media is that they can develop and burst on the scene in initially contradictory ways, later settling into their deeper contexts in a web of compatibility we would have earlier thought impossible. I think the social, local, intelligent and mobile aspects are good ones to zero in on as a platform for analysis.