Real Net: Today
Currently, we live in a world in which it is already unthinkable to function without IT and the Internet. The latter is available to the general public for well over a decade and has seen some fast and significant developments throughout the years. Connections to the Internet from home with telephone lines have been replaced in large amounts by ADSL, while the more capacious 3G and 4G are already well developed and will become available to the large audience within the near future. Another trend that is taking place at this moment is Internet via Wi-Fi, thus via wireless connections. However, this is still only local Wi-Fi, while the speed is also pretty limited. Other aspects of IT which are apparent in today’s world is the mobile device to communicate with like Blackberry, I-mode and Vodafone Live, and the sharing of software, songs and movies via peer-to-peer technology at a large scale. These developments definitely have had their impact on society and the world. To put it in figures, the number of PC’s per 1000 people on a world scale ranges from 8 for the lowest incomes and 467 for the highest incomes. The number of Internet users per 1000 people for these income groups are respectively 10 and 364. With respect to regions, South Asia only has 7 PC’s per 1000 people, while the US has 659. The same is the case for Internet availability, 14 users per 1000 in South Asia and 551 in the US (World Development Indicators 2002, World Bank). The Digital Divide, meaning the gap between people that have access to computers and those that are far behind or will never use such devices, thus becomes clearly visible. During the last decades a large number of digital literacy initiatives have been developed, however it remains questionable if these initiatives will be enough to close, or at least reduce, the gap.
After a couple of tough years, the world seems to be slowly recovering from a deep recession. However, there are still a number of industries and countries that are unstable, the US Dollar is very weak and the oil price is at a historic peak. On the other hand, China is the economy that is hot and dramatically expanding. Furthermore, we see that IT producing industries (i.e. hardware industries, communication equipment industries, software/services industries, communication services industries) are also steadily growing, although technologies are changing. For example in the US, these industries, which account for 8% of the US GDP, contributed for 0.8% of the 2.9% real US economic growth in 2003 (Digital Economy 2003, US Department of Commerce). Furthermore, increasingly more IT business is done offshore, i.e. software industry in India, and manufacturing in China.
As mentioned previously, IT developments have had a significant impact on the society. Although the majority of activities still take place in physical space, more and more virtuality is introduced into society. Take for example the increasing number of people that communicate with each other via email, the working from home that is increasingly evolving in a lot of companies, and the learning from distance via the Internet. Taking the Digital Divide into account, people in developed countries have thus become pretty much Internet conscious in the last couple of years. As a result phenomena that previously would only have effect in physical space, today also occur in the virtual space on the Internet, i.e. people are not only afraid of physical terrorism, but now even of terrorism via the Internet.
In politics global terrorism, the conflict in Iraq, and in Europe the expansion of the EU received a lot of attention in 2004. Although global regulations and standards for the Internet are still lacking in today’s world, apart from the protocol, some governments seem to install regulations in order to stimulate this sector. For instance, in the US, business via the Internet is being heavily promoted by the government with tax breaks that are imposed on e-commerce. Moreover, with respect to IT in general, governments in cooperation with NGO’s and institutions like the UN keep on developing initiatives to reduce the Digital Divide, i.e. the UN ICT Taskforce.