The modern world has been shaped by a superabundance of technology. There’s not an aspect of our lives that doesn’t rely on some form or other of modern technology – from the clothes we wear to the food we eat to our interpersonal interactions.
Of course, technology is more prevalent and influential in some parts of the world than in others. It’s often maligned as a source of inequality, disproportionately benefitting wealthy western economies while doing little for the world’s poor. But this gloomy outlook is not borne out by the data. The availability of the right technologies improves livelihoods across the world.
It’s no coincidence that the information age has seen an enormous reduction in extreme poverty, most concentrated in East Asia and the Pacific. More than 1.9 billion people in 1990 lived on less than two dollars a day; the figure is now less than 500 million.
Like never before, we’re able to witness the hardships of people in remote parts of the world. While it might seem as though westerners are mostly indifferent to the plight of the world’s poor, preferring instead to focus on a few fashionable issues, there’s no denying that social media can help to spread the word about human rights abuses and natural disasters. Crowd-funding sites like Justgiving can help to source donations; organisations like GiveWell provide a means of auditing and assessing charities based on how effective they are at reducing harm.
Social media can, of course, be an instrument of repression rather than one of empowerment. Unscrupulous governments can collect data on their citizenry, often with the collusion of Silicon-Valley, and thus crack down on dissent and chill freedom of expression. It may also pose an existential threat to democracy, ironically pushing us toward more extreme and antisocial views. But acknowledging these problems needn’t mean discounting the considerable good that social media has done.
Among the biggest obstacles to those in the poorer countries is a lack of education available. If you happen to be born in a remote fishing village in the 1960s, then you might not have much chance of receiving the same education as someone living in an affluent university city in the UK. But now, with the availability of the internet, free video platforms like YouTube, and cheap computers like the Raspberry Pi, children around the world have unparalleled access to educational resources.
Access to Financial Markets
By the same token, workers around the world are now able to more easily trade with one another. Even in parts of sub-Saharan Africa where the infrastructure is notoriously unreliable, buyers and sellers can find one another and name their prices. This reduces reliance on third parties, who take a cut of any profits, and also makes possible niche markets which wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.
Trading platforms also allow anyone in the world to trade in forex and commodities. What’s more, the internet means that those using these platforms have access to the learning resources necessary to use them well.
As while as providing a crutch through which substandard infrastructure can be coped with, technology also provides a means of improving that infrastructure. The rollout of 5G networks means that high-speed internet is more widespread and affordable – which provides wider economic benefits.