Cyberspace and Globalization Dr. Mladen Milicevic Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, USA

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Cyberspace and Globalization Dr. Mladen Milicevic Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, USA Abstract This paper focuses on the effects of globalization and the uses of the telecommunication
Cyberspace and Globalization Dr. Mladen Milicevic Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, USA Abstract This paper focuses on the effects of globalization and the uses of the telecommunication technologies in Africa. Examination of the current situation in Africa shows that mobile phone technologies represent a much more feasible option then the Internet technologies may be. Internet connectivity will be coming with the mobile phone connectivity, and that s enabling clinics and schools and other local institutions and businesses to have wireless Internet on computers linked to the mobile networks. However, in addition to wireless Internet, a rollout of undersea broadband fiber cable is underway along east and west coasts of Africa. A brief consideration of the projects and the organizations whose work concentrates on promoting literacy through the telecommunication technologies is provided, focusing on Nicholas Negroponte s One Laptop Per Child project. Introduction The term cyberspace literally means navigable space and it is derived from the Greek word kyber (to navigate). In William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, the original source of the term, cyberspace refers to a navigable, digital space of networked computers accessible from computer consoles; a visual, colorful, electronic datascape known as The Matrix where companies and individuals interact with, and trade in, information. Since 1984 the term cyberspace has been re-appropriated, adapted and used in a variety of ways that all refer to the computer-based conceptual space within information and communication technologies Globalization has become the most important economic, political, and cultural phenomenon of our time. This process is reshaping the world economy, creating new social classes, and reordering the lives of thousands and thousands of people. The word globalization stands for all kinds of different things depending on who uses it. It could stand for the so-called progress and modernity of western culture, or American domination of world culture or the arrival of worldwide hypermodern chaos loaded with inequality and instability for almost everyone. One of the important aspects of cyberspace and globalization has to do with the tyranny of the place that was always a synonym for restraints on liberty that puts restrictions, both political and economic, on where people can live and go, what to buy, eat, read, hear or see. Globalization by its nature brings down these barriers and empowers the individual with unlimited choices. One can live in England but eat Greek food, read Suddeuche Zeitung on the Internet, buy books from in Seattle, and visit Egyptian pyramids without changing money or having a passport. All this increases people's freedom to shape their identities in a way that their ancestors could not have possibly imagined. This picture of the world as global village may appear to be very appealing and interesting to dwell in, but this is only one side of the coin the western world-view side of the coin. This will be perfectly illustrated by looking at the following statistics that reveal a very uneven distribution of wealth, and consequently selective privilege regarding who can and cannot gain access to the cyberspace information. Knowing that most of the Internet users live in the western world makes it difficult to claim that the Internet's role as a medium is globally powerful. On the contrary it is rather limited to the very small percentage of world's wealthy population who own a computer, or may have access to one. There may be a significant impact of the Internet on the global level, as in case where it played an important role in the victory of Barak Obama during the US presidential elections. Thus, Obama as the president of the US may have substantial influence on the general global situation in the world. However, in many parts of the developing world, there is still a tremendous shortage of telephones, let alone computers. There are fewer telephones in sub-saharan Africa than in Manhattan, and for the most people in the world, the World Wide Web and the entire cyberspace is just another unobtainable American toy. CNN and MTV worldwide have more influence than Internet does, because there are more people globally who own a TV set than those who own a computer. Issues of Western Culture While developing countries struggle with political uncertainty, poverty, health issues, and literacy to name the few, the western world of 21 st. century is concerned with disorientation of contemporary life, the decline of historical consciousness, confusion of real and virtual, breaking away from religious values and narratives, all of which produce emotional numbness and detachment. The contemporary western society, which is becoming more and more globalized, is faced with all kinds of novelties and raptures loaded with myriad of unrelated events and phenomena. People are increasingly faced with an urgent need to organize their experiences in a way that would replace disorder and discontinuity with orderly structures providing more certainty and therefore stronger feeling of highly desired security. [Best & Kellner 2001] Contemporary world economies and societies are greatly influenced by transnational corporations that are replacing the nation-state as arbitrators of economy in an emergent stage of transnational capitalism that erases previous boundaries of space and time that produces an ever-expanding global marketplace and division of labor, with novel forms of speculative capital, new forms of production and distribution, rapidly expanding emigration and class restructuring, and cornucopia of new consumer goods, information technologies, and services. [Best & Kellner 1997] Even though, this is largely a Western discourse, it affects, in one way or another, the entire world as in the case of war on terrorism or the latest world-wide economic collapse. So, the question is how the developing countries are going to reach a point of having the same kinds of sociological and cultural problems as their counterparts in the west? Let me start with addressing the digital divide in Africa. Digital Divide The term digital divide represents the inequality of possibility in relation of access to information, knowledge and communication networks. The fast development of information and communication technologies in recent years produced a serious imbalance between info-rich and info-poor, between the haves and the have-nots of the information society. The existence of this digital divide impedes the possibilities of improvement that such technologies can offer to the most underprivileged. It holds back the production and exchange of information, highlights economic slow down and severely amplifies the shortage of understanding between peoples. More than 80% of the population of the planet is literally excluded from the global information networks that provide economic, cultural, political and social interactions. Closing a digital divide would require a redesign of global society because the digital divide is not a technological problem to begin with, but rather an economic, social, and political issue. The digital divide is not only a gap in the access to and benefits from technology, but it also an expression of a more general divide in wealth and power. The problem we are facing is a symptom of much deeper, more important division: of income, development and literacy. [Fuchs 2007] Most commentators view digital divide in purely economic terms. However, two other types of divide will have much greater impact in the years to come. Economic Divide in its simplest form, the digital divide is manifested in the fact that not all people can afford to buy a computer. In areas like North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia's advanced countries, computer cost is no longer an issue. Dell's cheapest computer costs $379 (with a monitor), but how about the developing countries where cost of a computer exceeds by multifold the annual income per capita. Usability Divide may be far worse than the economic divide is seen in the fact that technology remains so complicated that many people couldn't use a computer even if they got one for free. Many others can use computers, but don't achieve the modern world's full benefits because most of the available services are too difficult for them to understand. Almost 40% of the population has lower literacy skills, and yet few websites follow the guidelines for writing for low-literacy users. Lower literacy is the Web's biggest accessibility problem, but it seems that nobody cares about this massive user group. [Nielsen 2006] Essentially we are still experiencing the effect of hundreds of years of colonial and post-colonial exploitation, exclusion, and dependency of the Third World that has caused the very conditions that Africans have to face today. Very few people in poor countries own computers and have access to the Internet simply because they are too poor, illiterate, or have other more vital concerns, such as food, health care and security. So even if it were possible to wave a magic wand and cause a computer to appear in every household on earth, it would not achieve very much: a computer is not useful if you have no food or electricity and cannot read. Rather than trying to close the divide for the sake of it, the more sensible goal is to determine how best to use technology to promote bottom-up development. And the answer to that question turns out to be remarkably clear: by promoting the spread not of PCs and the Internet, but of mobile phones. [The Economist, 2005] So, in order to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor, the mobile phone, not the personal computer, has shown the highest potential. In Africa where the availability of other forms of communication roads, postal systems or fixed-line phones is often limited, mobile phone technology becomes the single most transformative force for development. Over the past decade, the number of mobile phone users in Africa has grown faster than elsewhere in the world. According 2007 African Mobile Phone Statistics, the continent's mobile phone usage for the past five years has increased more than 200% percent. At the end of 2007 there were million mobile phone subscribers in Africa, representing a penetration rate of 30.4%. The chart below shows the historical numbers up until 2007, with projected growth and penetration rates through 2012. 2007 African Mobile Phone Statistics by HASH on August 1, 2008 Overcoming barriers to market penetration is clearly in the best interest of everyone involved: in a typical developing country, a rise of ten mobile phones per 100 people boosts GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points. Africa s Mobile Phone Operators (carriers) MTN million subscribers Vodacom million subscribers Orascom million subscribers Zain million subscribers Orange million subscribers Mobile phones technology helps many different user groups. Here are some beneficiaries of mobile phones at the village level: Entrepreneurs who are selling phone services to villages on a per use basis. Sellers of prepaid phone cards including poor urban youths and small business owners. Users of phones who gain business and employment opportunities mentioned above. Mobile phones save people living in rural communities the financial costs and time involved with travel. Many small businesses in Africa claim that they had increased their profits as a result of mobile phones. Over 85 percent of small businesses run by black individuals in South Africa rely solely on a mobile phone for telecommunications. One can buy airtime from the bank account, receive airtime from another phone user, top up another phone user and pay the bills. Health-care workers in the rural areas summon ambulances to distant clinics via mobile phone. [Butler 2005] The solution for charging a mobile phone is often a car battery owned by someone who does not have a prayer of acquiring a car. So, a person running a mobile phone charging business has to keep a battery in her shop, then take it by bus 20 or so miles to the nearest town to recharge it in a gas station. For 80 cents each, neighbors can charge their mobiles from the battery. [LaFranier 2005] To power many remote mobile phone sites across Africa, diesel generators with lead acid batteries are used, providing back-up power should the diesel generators fail. However, groups such as Safaricom are trying to reduce diesel usage by integrating wind turbines or solar panels into the systems powering mobile phone sites. For example, Laisamis is a remote town of 1,000 people of the Soboto tribe (related to the Maasai), has no electricity, no running water, no sewers, no radio, no TV - but it does have cell phone service. Getting to Laisamis from the capital Nairobi is a 24+ hour drive and the household income is very low, the new mobile phone base station has changed the lives of the local people. This new mobile phone base station is handling thousands of calls a day. The Safaricom is planning to add a wind-powered battery charging station to their base station facility. Mobile phones allow children to talk to parents who have gone to work in the major cities, law enforcement to spread the word on cattle thefts, and clinicians to seek the advice of doctors. [Aola Ooko 2008] Villagers in the two jungle provinces of Congo are so eager for mobile phone service that they have built 50- foot-high tree houses to catch signals from distant mobile phone towers. One man in Congo uses his mobile phone as a public pay phone. Those who want to climb to his platform and use his phone pay him for the privilege. One woman living on the Congo River, unable even to write her last name, tells customers to call her mobile phone if they want to buy the fresh fish she sells. She doesn't have electricity, she can't put the fish in the freezer, so she keeps them in the river tethered live on a string, until a call comes in. Then she retrieves them and readies them for sale. [LaFranier 2005] During the 2006 local government elections in Senegal, Radio Sud used reporters and correspondents with cell phones to call in what they saw. With communication and cell phones, this is where it is difficult to cheat in elections now. The figures announced at the district level are reported by the mobile phones and thus cannot be changed on the road to the capital. Mobile phones allowed independent media, especially radio, to provide accurate coverage of elections and make it more difficult for ruling parties to cheat and get away with it. [Steere 2008] While Africa has experienced tremendous growth in the mobile services market and still has room for growth with only 50% of Sub-Saharan Africa covered by a mobile signal, future expansion faces some hurdles. The largest of these is the cost of handsets. [Butler 2005] High taxes and duties imposed by many governments on handsets and services, often just as growth in the sector starts to take off. It does seem strange for countries to say that telephone access is a public-policy goal, and then put special or punitive taxes on telecoms operators and users. To avoid taxes and duties, many mobile operators in sub-saharan Africa do not subsidize handsets like their counterparts in Europe and the United States and few rural Africans can afford the prices of the latest mobile gadgets. Thus, mobile operators in Africa generally rely on customers to get the handsets on the black market. Used handsets are available for $50 or less in South Africa. Meanwhile the handset-makers are racing to develop cheap handsets for new markets in the developing world. Another reason why some governments might impose high barriers to cell phone usage mobile phones increase the costs of repression. A network of opposition activists armed with cell phones and textmessaging capability can more easily coordinate political action against a repressive government. [Drezner 2005] The growth rate in Africa over the last couple of years has been phenomenal, and will likely continue for the next 3-5 years. Major drivers of increased growth include: Subsidization of handsets Pre-paid offerings Continued liberalization of the telcom sector Low penetration rates Expected uptake of 3G services Growth inhibitors include: Taxation - especially in East Africa Low income across the continent hampers growth Widespread illiteracy decreases the growth of value added services, even SMS Unreliable electricity supplies Corruption [HASH 2008] Bridging the Divide There are numerous projects and organizations whose goals are to help bridge the digital divide in Africa. The Millennium Villages project offers a bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The Millennium Villages themselves are proving that by fighting poverty at the village level through community-led development, rural Africa can achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and escape from the poverty trap. The Earth Institute of Columbia University is now in the process of partnering with a number of African universities for sharing online material for what we call global classrooms that are linked together through Skype or Internet-based video conferencing. So the education side will benefit tremendously. The Digital Solidarity Fund is an African initiative with objectives of reducing the digital divide, putting information and communication technologies at the service of human development, and building a solidaritybased and inclusive information society. Objectives of the Fund are to ensure affordable and fair access to the information technologies and their contents for everybody, especially marginalized groups. They also promote such access as a basic right in both the public and private domains, irrespective of market fluctuations, growth and profitability, with respect for an information society that is socially, culturally, economically, financially and ecologically sustainable. There is a hope to guarantee access to information and knowledge to everybody, contribute to the autonomy and healthy development of each individual, and strengthen the commitment of local collectivities at the social, political, economic and cultural levels. Their goal is reducing economic, social and cultural disparities by the mobilization of fresh resources generated by innovative financial mechanisms for development, in particular the one percent for digital solidarity principle, a financing tool specifically devoted to the fight against the digital divide. The mission of Computers for Africa (CFA) is promoting sustainable Information and Communications Technology (ICT) development in rural African communities. Their program is developed by African and USA personnel, which starts with American volunteers refurbishing computers into ready-to-set-up labs and ends with a cluster of sustainable ICT programs in a rural African district. However, with this approach may be a danger in exporting old computers to developing countries is that the latter will become dumps for electronic waste just like many Western corporations and countries consider them as dumps for atomic waste. UbuntuNet Alliance is boosting the African research capacity through a high speed network link connecting the to the international research community via the GÉANT2 network. The connection between the UbuntuNet Alliance s network hub in London and the GÉANT2 network enables researchers and scholars in Sub-Saharan African universities and research institutions to share information and data and to collaborate through a 1 Gbp/s link with their peers in Europe and the rest of the world. Project Masiluleke, which spun out of a talk by HIV campaigner Zinny Thabethe at Pop!Tech 2006, is attempting to wrestle back some initiative in the HIV-Aids crisis in Africa. The first step for Project M:
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