An edited version of this interview will air on an upcoming episode of Spark (14/6/11)
In the western world, we often take internet access for granted. But how you access and use the world wide web varies greatly depending on where you live, how much money you make and what you do. And now that the United Nations has proposed that internet access should be a human right, these differences in access — or lack of access — are more important than ever.
This division fascinated Cyrus Farivar, a technology journalist and contributor to CBC's Spark. After spending time as a student in Senegal, he began to wonder how the internet began to evolve there and why its citizens use the internet the way they do. Farivar decided to look at internet usage in four countries: Iran, Estonia, South Korea and Senegal. His findings became a fascinating book, The Internet of Elsewhere.
The history of the internet in Estonia is particularly interesting. Estonia was the first nation in the world to declare internet access a human right. It was the original home of Skype and made the internet available in schools in the mid-1990s, long before many other countries. Members of Estonia's parliament can openly debate bills online before meeting in person. In terms of the internet and technology, Estonia is one of the most forward-thinking places in the world.
Why? Farivar chalks it up to two factors: "Education and nationalism or innovative spirit." When Estonia was under Soviet occupation, education in the social sciences and liberal arts was not encouraged, but computer science and physics were, resulting in a highly technologically literate population. Estonians also pride themselves on being the first, the fastest or the best when it comes to technology, and it shows. "Because Estonia is such a small country, these innovative and creative ideas can really, really take root," Farivar says.
Estonia is only one fascinating example Farivar offers. He also discusses the so-called "Twitter revolution" in Iran (he believes it's not the revolution others claim), mobile use of the internet in Africa, and more. Thanks to the technological innovations emerging around the world, we are living in a rapidly changing place.
Skype, Blackberry, and e-voting: they're all tools that developed thanks to the internet. "We start to use them and they start to change the way we interact with the world around us," Farivar says.
Who knows what the internet will bring us next?
The Internet of Elsewhere: The Emergent Effects of a Wired World
Buy this book at:
"Through the lens of culture, The Internet of Elsewhere looks at the role of the Internet as a catalyst in transforming communications, politics, and economics. Cyrus Farivar explores the Internet's history and effects in four distinct and, to some, surprising societies — Iran, Estonia, South Korea, and Senegal. He profiles Web pioneers in these countries and, at the same time, surveys the environments in which they each work. After all, contends Farivar, despite Californiaís great success in creating the Internet and spawning companies like Apple and Google, in some areas the United States is still years behind other nations."
Read more at Rutgers University Press