Is the internet the most persuasive form of globalization today? What other technologies can be considered global? Is the World Wide Web really world-wide or global? Or is it widening the gap between the information haves and have-nots, known in the internet age as the 'digital divide'?
The evolution of the World Wide Web has turned the Internet into the 'fastest growing-tool of communication' and 'global medium' (Thussu 2006, p.208). Statistics revealed that the number of Internet users has significantly propelled to more than three times from 2000 to 2009, reaching out to more than 1.7 billion users worldwide. The manifestation is primarily attributed by the cheaper and rapid connectivity as a result of the perpetual developments of computing and communication technologies. The progression now offers a vast dimension of instantaneous global information resources, and virtually broadens and evolves the entertainment realm and services (Thussu 2006, p.208-211).
In the 21st century, the prevalence of the Internet has made it easier for people to connect with one another. As information can be shared without any boundary, it enables an individual, government or businesses to be assimilated or exposed to the economical, cultural and social aspects of just about anything, ranging from a country, service or product.
The local Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that globalization is inevitable to promote international growth, and how the United Nations (UN) had benefited through the Internet. The Internet facilitated electronic access to official documents of the UN and their relief web. Consolidated contributions were made to the humanitarian relief efforts, where then Minister for Foreign Affairs mentioned 'the Internet - has tied all of us together, very much like a global family' (S. Jayakumar, 1998).
Apart from serving as an intermediary between individuals to the discovery of cultural and societal differences and perspectives within their limited purview, the Internet also opens up another avenue for companies and government bodies to raise awareness of their respective agenda globally. To keep abreast with the driven force of globalization, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) leverages on the virtual portal by way of its own website to promote the local tourism industry worldwide amongst other marketing and publicity means. This sways beyond the confined boundaries of pre-Internet age as it reaches out at a wider group of audience more rapidly than other media and communication means (Thussu 2006, p.208).
Argumentatively, the Internet can be considered the most persuasive technological tool, in particular in developed countries. This is premised on its seamlessness of connectivity and the wide range of information that is prevalent in the world provided on the Internet.
Conversely, the Internet phenomenon may not be the most efficient platform in distribution of information. Albeit taking a longer period to establish an audience of 50 million as compared to the Internet (Thussu 2006, p. 208), the television and is an alternative global communication platform (Sreberny 2000, p. 97) to reach out to those in hinterland.
Notwithstanding the rapid information communication technology developments, there is still a wide group of people who are still not able to read or write, thus, forming a decentralized information and source gap. The television, as Saddar described as 'the acme of information technology' (2002, p. 81), serves as a medium to bridge the gaps through the dissemination of imagery and vocal information. This broadcast technology translates to the simplicity of information outreach to both the literate and illiterate groups internationally as images surpass the linguistic barriers (Thussu 2006, p. 113).
Separately, television channels can be aired worldwide, and with the global increase in households owning a television set (Sreberny 2000, p.97), it can be argued that the television is a successful media tool to converge cultural and lifestyle values between different countries. Hall (1991, p. 27) hailed the television the 'global mass culture', which could serve to propagate to induce and shape the manner people behave or react. The Americanized televised programmes, such as 'American Idol', have attracted countries to host similar entertainment programmes. Singapore hosted the 'Singapore Idol' for three successful seasons and also emulated the Chinese and Tamil versions titled 'Project Superstar' and 'Vasantha Star' respectively to cater to the different linguistic groups. On the other hand, Japanese and Korean drama series also permeate the interest of our local viewers by storm through televised broadcast in early 2000, where they get infused about the cultural and values aspects of these two countries.
The creator of the Worldwide Web (WWW), Tim Berners Lee, named the system project 'worldwide' to internationalize it universally and allow users to navigate and access to boundless information at any parts of the world. Notwithstanding the intent to develop the web worldwide, websites were written and managed in English or Latin characters, restricting means for hypertext transfer protocol. Thus, there is no precise measurement to determine the web is actually worldwide or global, given its confinement to the utilization of the language characters.
ICANN agreed to allow countries to apply for their names on the domain and using its own characters on 16 November 2009, giving birth to the 'global web'. It opens up another platform to bring in immense tangible and intangible opportunities on the web. The liberalization in language characters also facilitates an expansion in cross border trades and investments, opening up of business markets and new users as it brings an identity integration and assimilation in global context. International companies, such as Hass, have also started to term the web as a global tool to reach out to the world. These further support the argument that WWW has gone global.
On the flipside, the digitalization on the WWW has triggered the inequality and disproportional in information distribution and access, leading to the digital divide between the rich and poor population. This would have been precipitated by the limitation or lack in physical access in aspects of the software and hardware availability, financial capabilities to build infrastructures and its ensued software maintenance, and institutional of the literacy standards, in particular to those in hinterland.
To further augment my contention, online media policies regulated by different governments also play a part in digital divide. Internet providers are state-run in many countries, allowing the government to put in place gateway control mechanism to prohibit access to certain sites and monitor email communication (Thussu 2006, p. 239). For instance, the Iranian government restricts the use of high speed internet to curb the proliferation of the western culture influences, such as music and television, to its people (Tait 2006).
For optimization of the Internet, the gaps have to be abridged significantly, but it would not be an easy feat with the different economic statures and sets of media communication rules and regulations of each country.
- Statement by Singapore Foreign Minister, Prof S Jayakumar to the 53rd United Nations General Assembly in New York, 28 Sep 1998
- The worldwide web just went global, Andy Atkins-Kruger, Search Engine Watch, 4 Nov 2009
- Hass website reflects global presence
- Iran bans fast internet to cut west's influence, Robert Taits, The Guardian, 18 Oct 2006