| 2 |
3 | 4
| 5 |
So it’s fair to ask where the Internet
is really taking us, and if there are other important areas of
our lives that it can — or should — improve. In one
form or another, the question is regularly echoed in the media,
and so it was no surprise that UCLA Adjunct Professor of Computer
Science Alan Kay raised it, plunging the symposium into something
of a hush.
At a time when much of the world does not have enough drinking
water and access to affordable medicine, Kay asked what people
should make of the computer industry’s "SUV mentality"
of manufacturing increasingly powerful computers that, to a large
extent, are not tools of education in a sorely uneducated world
but tools of entertainment. "The trick," Kay suggested,
"is to use the Internet as much more than an instrument
of pop culture."
Renaissance Europe is an excellent guide to the
kind of investment today’s tech elite should be making in
the Internet, Kay suggested. "The people who built cathedrals
in Europe knew they would die before the cathedrals would be completed,"
he said. "They left a legacy — a sort of gift for
the future generations." The obvious moral: In envisioning
the Internet’s future, think of the world’s children
in the decades to come.
Bridging the world’s yawning digital divide
is another area of concern. According to the United Nations Development
Program’s 2001 Human Development Report, Internet users
as a percentage of the population doubled in the United States
and quadrupled in countries belonging to the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development over a two-year period ending
in 2000. In contrast, the Arab states, Africa and South Asia showed
relative increases of just 0.4 percent, 0.3 percent and 3.6 percent
Yet in another sense, high technology is reducing
the digital divide. Massive cell-phone usage in China, for example,
is helping the Chinese to leapfrog their nation’s relatively
few wired telephone lines. In India, inventive entrepreneurs provide
satellite-linked community PCs to power-starved villages. The
machines, known as "Internet rickshaws," are mounted
on tricycles and powered by a simple pedal-driven device. "In
countries where you can’t trust the infrastructure, you’ve
got to build your own," says Ethan Zuckerman, a research
fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet
& Society. "What we’re seeing in the developing
world is really creative engineers who are returning [from the
West] and building infrastructure in their home countries."