Technology May Seek To Flatten The World, But The “Digital South” Will Chart Its Own Course

Technology May Seek To Flatten The World, But The “Digital South” Will Chart Its Own Course

The Digital South spends more time on the mobile Internet than the Digital North. In addition, a user in the Digital South spends more time on social media than a user in the Digital North – for example, almost 4 hours in the Philippines as compared to 48 minutes a day in Japan. The Digital South is More Optimistic: The proportion of the population that believes that new technologies offer more opportunities than risks is markedly higher in the Digital South versus the Digital North. In our Digital Planet research we had found that countries in the Digital South that were also experiencing high digital momentum were generally more trusting, but that seems to be changing. The Digital South is Catching Up on News on Social Media But in Ways that are Different from the Digital North: Attitudes towards digital media as a source of news are changing. A median of 54 percent of users were likely to get news online at least once a day in the developed world; in the developing world, that percentage was 23. WhatsApp use for news has almost tripled since 2014 and has overtaken Twitter in importance in many countries. In China alone, this proportion is 47 percent of internet users, followed by 45 percent in India. Neither has a team on the field in the World Cup; however, their keenness to participate digitally far exceeds the rest of the world. He is also Senior Advisor for Digital Inclusion at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and an Associate of the Center’s Insights Network.

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With trade wars, anti-globalization rhetoric and nationalist politicians hogging headlines around the world, mercifully, there are two things that can still bring the world together: viral messages on digital media and the FIFA World Cup. In fact, the real magic happens when the two global obsessions intersect. A quarter of the world’s active Internet users had planned to watch the games online; with over 4 billion online, that counts for a lot of people who are then poised to instantaneously pour their emotions onto social media. Once the World Cup final gets done on Sunday, July 15th, however, we might be back to digital virality carrying the flag solo to battle the forces of de-globalization.

This is a bit worrisome, since digital media has not proven to be a particularly responsible flag-bearer in recent months. While Facebook’s Zuckerberg has been on a sequential apology tour, Twitter has been cleaning up bogus accounts and Uber has been going through an extensive overhaul under a new CEO, some of the most egregious instances of the technology’s negative impact have been felt in what I call the Digital South, the countries that are still evolving in their adoption and use of these technologies: in India, for instance, rumors on WhatsApp have led to communal violence and gruesome cases of vigilante justice. Since the global digital players are based in the Digital North, much of the hand-wringing at headquarters is still over problems of the Digital North. It is high time, we recognized that the Digital South is poised to forge its own path. Its attitudes and engagement with technology are different. Tech companies that build their products in their iconic offices in Silicon Valley ought to recognize the distinctly different journey that the Digital South will be on and pay closer attention to its unique needs and concerns; after all, the Digital South is where the growth and momentum reside.

Digital North and South

What defines this “North-South” divide? In our multi-year global study, The Digital Planet, we have found marked distinctions between the digitally advanced nations, the Digital North (the countries in the top half of the picture below; above the median according to our Digital Evolution Index) and the not-quite-up-there-yet ones, the Digital South (the countries in the bottom half of the picture below; below the median in our Digital Evolution Index).

Five Ways in Which the Digital South is Charting its Own Course

The emerging signs are that the Digital North-South gap is only widening. Consider 5 important trends separating the two.

The Digital South is Spending More Time Online: The majority of Internet traffic is now over a mobile device and its use is growing, while use of desktops, laptops and tablets are falling. In other words, the mobile Internet is clearly key to our understanding of digital life now and in the future. The Digital South spends more time on the mobile Internet than the Digital North. Whereas a user in Thailand spends almost 5 hours a day on the mobile Internet, one in France spends an hour and 20 minutes. In addition, a user in the Digital South spends more time on social media than a user in the Digital North – for example, almost 4 hours in the Philippines as compared to 48 minutes a day in Japan.

The Digital South is More Optimistic: The proportion of the population that believes that new technologies offer more opportunities than risks is markedly higher in the Digital South versus the Digital North. In Nigeria, for example, 80 percent are “digital optimists”, while in Germany that proportion falls to 37 percent.

The Digital South Used to be More Trusting But That is Changing Fast: Unsurprisingly, given the many revelations relating to Facebook and multiple data breaches, the concerns about privacy are up everywhere. A majority — 52 percent — of global users are more concerned about their online privacy compared to one year ago; users are worried not only about cybercriminals, but also their own governments and social media. In our…

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