Can you imagine what life would be like without the internet? Can you imagine what it would be like to not be connected to the world all the time? There’d be no social network to connect with distant friends, no email or messaging services to communicate at work, no way to find any information you need at the click of a button. Well, a lot of people around the world don’t need to imagine this scenario because they actually aren’t connected. About two-thirds of the world’s population is not connected to the internet. Internet.org is an initiative launched by Facebook that is working to change that.
So how important is it to connect the world? Surely it’s more important for people in the third world to get access to food, medicines and other basic human needs rather than getting an internet connection. Offcourse, the basics are more important but connecting previously isolated parts of the world can play a huge role in creating opportunities and enhancing development. Just as creating better infrastructure, like roads and bridges, helps societies by giving them easier access to medicines and other products, similarly creating better connectivity will help people in many ways. For example it would help create opportunities for small rural industries to get at new markets, it would expose a generation of rural youth to get access to educational information they didn’t previously have, and better communication will also help in increasing coordination in transportation and getting vital supplies to villages in time. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine the new and innovative ways in which internet connectivity could be used to alleviate poverty. The first step to all of this is to get more people online.
Facebook’s internet.org initiative is doing just that by partnering with companies across the globe and developing a model through which internet access can be provided to people free of charge. Internet.org’s plans are ambitious. They involve solar powered planes that would beam down internet signals to isolated places and other innovative technologies that are more efficient and seem a bit like science fiction. However all that is in the long term. Right now, they seem to be focussed on educating people about the benefits of the being connected and are working on a model of basic internet services, which grant access to facebook and some other important sites for free to people who don’t yet understand the benefits of the internet. From there onwards it’s about reaching more and more people through better, more efficient technology.
I, for one, am really excited about this project. Who knows what vast untapped human potential might be unlocked because of this project. Facebook isn’t the only one with such a project. Even Google has its own Project Loon, created to grant better connectivity across the world at much lower costs. It would be very interesting to see the long term consequences of projects like these on the human species.