As a result of the rapid Internet expansion and its constantly growing potential, the gap between the developed and the developing world has been intensified adding one more aspect. While the citizens of western societies have the world information at their fingertips the citizens of the developed word are striving to overcome the dark ages of information deprivation due to lacking technological infrastructure.
Clay Shirky in his blog post Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, refers to the history of press to explain the digital evolution of journalism and what we are to expect. According to his argument, we do not know what exactly to expect as we witness this transitional gap, because as Shirky repeatedly notes, things break before they are replaced. Nevertheless, he points out that regardless of what the newspapers’ future is going to be, people need journalism; and though it might take a while until journalism finds its definition and place in the digital era, it will happen because people want it to.
Interestingly, this article reminds me of my first camera and love for photography. When I was about 5 years old, my father gave me his first camera which he got back in the 70s at a much older age than me. Kodak instamatic cameras were at the same time as simple and complicated as “point-and-shoot.” Fascinating! I was able to capture in click everything I thought interesting or worthy of remembering. However I had to be cautious since I could take 12 photos per film and those were expensive to develop into prints. Few years later digital cameras entered the market. Ground breaking innovation, but at the same time too expensive for a teenager to afford. I bought a Kodak Advantix instead and couldn’t be happier. Finally I had a zoom lens, I could choose settings, select the size of my photos and film was easier to replace compared to regular cameras. Despite the fact that the cost of prints remained high, I recall thinking that this camera may not be digital but will certainly meet my needs equally. Little did I know. Thanks to technology, today, my passion for photography is not limited to a device or by how many rolls of film I have in my bag, for I can take as many pictures as I like using my digital camera, phone, ipad or pc. I can edit my pictures, store and track them easier, produce them much cheaper, post them on-line and share them with my network and beyond. Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2012, but caused little effect in the market, even for its loyal customers, because people do not need Kodak, people just want to take pictures.
This story is not that different from the history of press Shirky is illustrating. He makes a valid argument for I see the camera and pictures case to be similar to newspapers and journalism. Both describe the relationship between a platform and a product, cameras and newspapers are platforms and photography and journalism are products. Technology is undeniably changing the dynamics of life and consequently the relationship between platforms and products as those adapt to the rapidly changing technology status quo, and one innovation gives its place to the next big thing.
Based on the recent innovation and progress encountered in photography business, starting from my father not having a camera as a child to my generation’s ability to experience a new photography era; we can assume the future of newspapers and journalism. Similarly with cameras, newspapers will not stop being produced, they will just change format as the press has evolved throughout time. Considering Web 2.0 as a platform for journalism, clearly the Internet is empowering people by increasing the number of channels they can use to voice their opinion, access information and interact with each other at a minimum cost. If journalism is about reporting news and conveying different points of view to the world, then on-line journalism is the evolution of paper, which allows reach to a wider audience giving Internet users the opportunity to interact with the author, create content and shape news. Optimizing communication tools encourage the notion of participatory media. Now everyone, regardless of their professional capacity, can freely express views or share news but no one is forced to read it, unless people choose to. We experience a new journalism era. As we transition to open media, traditional one-way communication newspapers will eventually stop being produced as hard copies but will not disappear, they will evolve to match the Internet momentum. This transformation has already started, given that new agencies migrated on-line and constantly modify their layout to increase interaction with their audience.
Like Anne Marie Slaughter said in her talk on “Open v. Closed: Media, Government and Social Organizations in the Information Age” at the Harvard Kennedy School, on October 10th, 2012; blogs, twitter and the like, give individuals the opportunity to write their own ideas and views, but this does not replace the quality of professional journalism. Therefore it is up to the news agencies to innovate and adapt or object the media transformation and follow the road of Kodak. Because as David Cage rightfully pointed, industries die if they fail to innovate…
The divide between west and east, developed and developing countries is not new and certainly is not limited to political and economic discrepancies. The reciprocal flow of news and information, from the era of traditional media to the Internet and media convergence, has been a challenge over the years and despite the efforts of International Organizations, communication imbalance continues.
In the 1970s UNESCO was appointed to address the lapse of information freedom favoring the west and focused “in the work of advancing mutual knowledge and understanding of people through all means of mass communication.” The Cold War interrupted the mission of “New World Information and Communication Order” (NWICO) and the attempt to support developing countries since communication in a polarized world was the least uneven.
The global political instability diminished any chance to promote the NWICO concept of “Many Voices One world,” especially after the US and UK withdrew their UNESCO memberships and took away their budgets in the name of NWICO. Despite the actions of developing countries to continue working towards the establishment of a new order, the efforts were fruitless.
Nowadays, traditional media news traffic is complemented, or in some cases even replaced, by the Internet. Theoretically, information should now be more accessible, up-to-date and accurate than it has ever been. However, as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon pointed out in the opening of the 2012 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), “we cannot forget that two thirds of the world’s people still do not have access to the Internet.” Considering this statement, it is evident that things have not changed much and notwithstanding the technological evolution in the developed world, the majority of the population is lacking access to basics such as security and health, let alone access to the Internet.
The digital divide between the developed and developing countries is widely acknowledged and 20 years after NWICO, the UN launched WSIS in 2003 to focus on bridging this gap proposing priority lines of action. In the digital era the flow of media communications is a multi-way path but at the same time not that different from the one-way information traffic of traditional media in the late 20th century.
The question rising is whether digital divide is only an issue between developed and developing countries, or between digital immigrants and natives. The divide is encountered even across people with the same demographics. Technological updates increase Internet capacity but also make it challenging to keep up with. Moreover, having Internet access does not guarantee knowledge to use it. Even if skills apply, people might be lacking time or interest to participate in online communications and content creation leaving the floor open to Media Corporations and active users to continue communication inequality within and across borders.