The digital divide starts early

George Bernard Shaw is watching youGeorge Bernard Shaw once said “Youth is wasted on the young”. I used to think he was spot on but now thanks to a fascinating piece of research from AVG, I am not so sure. AVG examined the take-up of technology of very young children ages 2 to 5. While their sample was worldwide, it did only focus on developed countries (U.S., Canada, the EU5 (U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain), Japan, Australia and New Zealand) who you would expect to be more tech savvy. They asked mothers of the 2-5 year olds to document their children’s technology and life skills.

Amongst the results they found:

  1. More small children can play a computer game than ride a bike.
  2. There is no tech gender divide between young boys and girls. As many boys (58 percent) as girls (59 percent) can play a computer game or make a mobile phone call (28 percent boys, 29 percent girls).
  3. The EU countries lead the US in terms of technology savvy for the 2-5 set.

While some of these results may be due to primarily copying (seeing your parents make a phone call) rather than learning (riding a bike for the first time is not intuitive), the research does show how much technology is influencing our lives and how it is trickling down to our young ones.

The power of the internet (and the technology that drives it) continues to amaze me. Maybe I should not have been so surprised that the Egyptian revolution came out of nowhere and was enabled by the internet.

As an aside, I found it fascinating that the Egyptian government closed down their ISPs (and hence the Internet) before they curtailed and restricted  the reporting of traditional media. Times they are a-changing.

Facebook as the new “walled garden”

I have followed the world-wide-web as it relates to Telecom companies for it seems for ever (surely only 15 years? Ed). They were well positioned to use their relationships coupled with their ownership of the transport part of the internet value chain to become major factors in the internet space. It never happened. One of the criticisms, leveled at the Telcos was their insistence, early on, of operating a walled garden, where the Telcos controlled access and gave significant preference to specific applications (mostly their own or white-labeled from other providers).Walled Garden Consumers viewed this as restrictive and not helpful. It was obvious up front that the benefit of a walled garden was almost all Telco.

So where goes Facebook, in an opinion piece in this Sunday’s NY Times, Randall Stross makes a number of strong points – how Facebook has changed and how its original premise has been lost, in its frenzy to become the de facto web.

The Facebook model of organizing the world’s information involves a mix of personally sensitive information, impersonal information that is potentially widely useful, and information whose sensitivity and usefulness falls in between. It’s a tangle created by Facebook’s origins as the host of unambiguously nonpublic messaging among college students.

The company’s desire now to help out “the world” — an aim that wasn’t mentioned on its “About” page two years ago — has led it to inflict an unending succession of privacy policy changes on its members.

People often talk about the two leading social networking sites in a way that sounds like they’re a single entity: FacebookandTwitter. But the two are fundamentally different. Facebook began with a closed, friends-only model, and today has moved to a private-public hybrid, resetting members’ default privacy settings. By contrast, most Twitter users elect to use the service to address the general public.

As I look at this, I see Facebook building its very own walled garden. I am reminded of a quote by George Santayana

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Photo courtesy of Ell Brown

The Dark Tower

The Internet is a terribly misunderstood creature.  It writhes and shifts and shapes and meanders through culture and politics and society and life and art and we complain and we exult and we wonder and sometimes, just sometimes, we think what else it might do.  The good in us thinks that it is benign, a tool that we can use to help one another, to commune with one another, and that communication somehow is something amoral, nondescript, impersonal, that it’s not a noun but a verb, not a thing to be addressed, but a tool to wield.  But there is a darkness which we prefer not to mention.

Childe Roland to The Dark Tower Came

Childe Roland to The Dark Tower Came

The beast that lurks in the dark underbelly of the Internet is sometimes referred to as the Dark Web, or the Deep Web.  It is a place where people go so that they can be hidden, a place of political dissidents, nazis, paedophiles, naysayers, and evildoers.  It is not the mainstream, it’s a million miles from Facebook.  And it’s also, perhaps, a more honest place.

This writer has never been there.  And though I’m tempted to download the Freenet software and plunge headlong into the morass of sin and exploitation, I don’t think I would have the cohonés to stick my head around the door, even if only to drop in for a cup of tea.  The freenet logo is a bounding rabbit, or perhaps a hare.  It could be something out of Watership Down, or Alice in Wonderland, reminding us perhaps of childhood, or a blissful utopia.  It could also, of course, be something out of Animal Farm, an altogether different vision.  But that there is some kind of vision here is certain.

What I wonder about these liberating technologies is that as they loose us from the ties and norms of society, and as an individualization of the self (as opposed to the centuries old socialisation of man) accelerated through technology, who, or what, do we become?  Our darkest thoughts (that is, thoughts beyond simply “brazen”…) become realisable without consequence, our morals become irrelevant.  Our identity becomes pluralised, and compromised.  Spooky.

Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called The End of History and The Last Man, arguing that, because liberal democracy represented the ultimate in human achievement, allowing maximum expression and freedom for the individual, it meant that as a people we could no longer have ambition; and, devoid of ambition, we were dispossessed of a crucial defining element of ourselves, therefore mankind as we know it was at an end.  Maybe he was right, that mankind as we know it is at an end. But maybe for the wrong reasons.

The Emperor is well dressed but what about the rest?

napoleonThe March 21st-27th 2009 issue of the Economist has both a leader and article on Silicon Valley and the potential for another “nuclear winter” as startups vanish into thin air. The global economic crisis has exposed the free at first, grow fast, establish niche dominance and then make a killing selling advertising business model . The result is like a retelling of  the fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes“  but with roles reversed. With the exception of Google (the Emperor above),  no other company has been able to build a sustainable business model based mostly on internet advertising – (although LinkedIn may come close).

So what does this mean for the mobile Telcos, where so much is riding on the success of mobile advertising to make up for the commoditization of their core voice business. While the jury is still out, I believe that mobile advertising is fundamentally different from internet advertising. It is not an alternate channel but a different tyoe of business in its own right. and there are some very unique aspects to mobile phone advertising. For example, it can be very targeted (location being an obvious example), the delivery and receiving mechanisms (2.5G, 3G ~ smartphones) are in place and the ubiquitous of the mobile phone means a critical mass audience already exists. As such, the mobile Telcos are well positioned to truly make mobile advertising a core component of their go-to-market business model, but it will not be easy as this is outside their core competence (delivering bits) and will take a major re-think of how they should approach the marketplace.