The Future of the Internet as a Catalyst for Globalization

The Future of the Internet as a Catalyst for Globalization

The Internet is defined as a global network of interconnected computers enabling users to share information. This is a very broad definition of a system that is quickly becoming an indispensible part of our daily lives. In only a decade after its introduction it went from around 20,000 nodes to over 80 million nodes a decade later. An increase of approximately 4000 times in a short period of time that went by in large unnoticed by the general public. As Internet penetration continues to increase exponentially around the world, there has been much speculation as to the future of the Internet and what role it will play in world events. Many including myself believe that the Internet will be a catalyst for globalization, a platform for higher learning and technological advance. The Internet has already opened communication channels across the globe, increasing awareness and understanding in areas that before were not possible.

Globalization is viewed as the worldwide unification and integration of culture, politics, and economics; basically globalization is the consolidation of world society. There have been forms of globalization in the past with the Roman Empire, the Parthian Empire, and later on during the colonial period when England, France, and Portugal expanded their affairs into global economic trade and colonization. Modern globalization efforts began in earnest after World War II as world governments worked with each other to forestall the chance of future wars. The globalization process slowed during the Cold War period between the U.S. and Russia, but recently thanks to prolific worldwide Internet growth and increased global communications it seems that the idea is alive, well, and thriving.

Globalization may not occur in a governmental sense for many years to come, however through the rapid spread of the Internet a global culture has already begun to solidify. In today’s tech dependant world, the Internet is quickly becoming the backbone of our existence. Through the widespread, global expansion of the Internet over the past several decades, we are beginning to gain access, news, and rapid communication with parts of the world that before required travel or third party information. Email, social networking sites, and a growing multimedia communications sector is bringing to our homes instantaneous and sometimes face to face correspondence from just about anywhere in  the world. We are no longer limited to a narrow and often biased view from news and information networks in national or world events and often through this wide open web of information we get first hand, unbiased accounts of these events.

This new communication frontier is leading us towards a more homogenous culture and society. As old misconceptions and bias are slowly disappearing as our lines of communication across the globe are opening up. These new cross cultural connections are changing our everyday lives, though much of it goes unnoticed. New global fads and pop culture are pervading even the most remote of areas. Media such as the idol series, cross-cultural cartoons, and games and toys are popping up all around the globe. Although this may not be a bad thing, some believe that in this march towards a globalized society we are slowly losing our identities. To an extent this may be true but, if our if modern western culture is any indication of how a global society will be, we will likely see a more unified cultural base where individual, traditional ideas are still upheld and respected.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the Internet being a catalyst for globalization is commerce. The foundations of a worldwide economy were laid after World War II when the U.S. dollar was made the monetary standard and fixed the value of other currencies in relation to the dollar. Since then the presence of a global economy has rapidly increased. In the last 50 years world trade in manufacturing goods has risen from 95 billion dollars to over 12 trillion. Much of this increase has occurred in the last 25 years in correlation with an increasing global Internet presence.

With the advent e-commerce, economic globalization has had a tremendous surge. Prior to the Internet revolution of the 90’s, worldwide trade on a consumer level was restrictive at best. The average consumer was limited to what they could purchase locally, through the mail, or specialized importers. Ebay.com, Amazon.com, and now countless other have forever changed the face of business to consumer sales in the world as we know it. The ability of the consumer to connect directly to the manufacturer or purchase goods in another country is now simply a mouse click away. The rapid increase in a global market has had profound effects on local economies around the world. In some cases there was previously “third world” or depressed regions that have become major presences in the global economy. China and India are two prime examples of economic giants that are rising out of the expanding global Internet economy, with China being a manufacturing and commerce giant and India being an IT giant.

The Internet has changed the face of China and global communications and commerce. China’s entrance into global affairs has opened a veritable floodgate of industry, commerce, and culture into the world. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear or see something in the news or in periodicals about China in recent years. Though they have had their criticism as a cheap and at times unreliable manufacturer, the fact is that without them the world’s economic base would be much different. Everything from plastics to electronics flood out of China’s manufacturing sector, filling shelves around the world. Much of China’s success is due to its acceptance of the Internet and Internet business. In recent years China’s Internet growth has increased so rapidly, the government can no longer has a way to accurately track its rate of increase. China reported approximately 298 million Internet users at the end of 2008, a 41% increase from the previous year. The most recent statistics show Asia as having 41.3% of the total Internet population and the majority of it from China. This sudden and prolific increase in Internet usage has created a whole new realm of web commerce from advertising, marketing, and even virtual world or online-game currency trading. While the usage figures from China are staggering, the Internet penetration is only at about 22.6%. As China’s economy grows and the Internet population of the country increases, the world will likely see China developing a much larger role in global affairs.

India is another recent Internet and technology “up and comer”. One of the major forces of globalization in India has been the growth of outsourced IT and business processing outsourcing services. In recent years there has been an increasing amount of skilled professionals in India employed by local and international companies to service customers in the U.S. and Europe. This is mostly due to the reduced cost of doing business in India while maintaining an educated, English speaking workforce. The recent growth of the IT sector in India has also created a new consumer class in India, spawning industrial and commercial growth inside the country as well.

Perhaps the greatest influence that the Internet will and has had is an increased access and sharing of education and technology. The Internet could quite possibly be the greatest educational asset that humankind as invented. The Internet has provided us with instantaneous access to innumerable amounts of information, right at our fingertips, for free. Research and collaborative efforts in science have made leaps and bounds because of increased access to materials and near instant communications.

The educational benefit of the Internet alone could be enough to sway even the staunchest of doubters. This benefit may not be as notable in areas where education is readily available, but as Internet penetration increases across the globe, area that lack in education facilities or opportunity will gain from the vast resources available. Earlier this year it was announced that the world’s first free Internet university would be opening its “doors” April of 2009. The University of the People has only a few simple requirements to participate in their two initial degree programs, Internet access, a high school education, and a working knowledge of the English language. Their course offerings at inception will include a BA in business administration and a BSCS in computer science by using free, public access course materials. The only fees associated are a registration fee and fees for exams that range depending on the student’s country of origin. Though a new and exciting concept in distance learning, the university is not yet accredited but plans to seek it by year’s end. There has been much debate as to whether the free university will become accredited due to its free nature.

Technological innovation is already becoming accelerated since the advent of the Internet. According to some such as futurists, the Internet could be a stepping stone in both technological and human evolution. In an article on kurzweilAI.net Danny Belkin, a PhD and futurist, writes that “communication is the method by which human knowledge and technological ability continue to progress”.  He states that through improved communications and the being able to pool our collaborative knowledge we give rise to more and more rapid research and development, this in turn increases our ability to communicate. The cycle continues as such and results in overall rapid technological advance much like we have been experiencing in the past several decades since the Internet has become more publicly available and widely used.

It is also posed that as communication advance continues via the Internet or like systems in the future, communications systems will become more advanced as well as the way that we interface with these communications systems. In other words, humans will likely begin to supplement themselves with technology in order to better interface with our computer systems or the Internet. Many futurists believe that this theory of human-machine integration is mankind’s next evolutionary “leap”.  Ray Kurzweil, the author of The Law of Accelerating returns and futurist, believes that this type of scenario is inevitable and could happen within the next 30-40 years if our rate of technological advance continues to progress as it has in the past 100 years.

The Internet has many facets and it is hard to say definitively what it will be like in the future. One thing is for certain, it is bringing the world together. I tend to agree with Kurzweil and many other futurists that the Internet is a catalyst for advanced communications and technological advance like none we have seen before in our history. Through open, global communication we are beginning to move towards a true “Global Village”. Though some believe that this will result in a loss of individual identity, the benefit to mankind far outweighs any possible negatives imaginable. If not for the Internet of today, the world would be a much different place. The Internet has greatly enhanced our ability to carry out even the simplest of everyday tasks. GPS navigation systems, email, instant messages, even writing a paper such as this, all made possible by the Internet. The Internet of tomorrow will be our resource, our repository of knowledge, our link to each other across continents and oceans. The Internet of tomorrow will part of our everyday lives, and possibly even part of us if some futurists are correct.

References

“The Globalization Website” 2008, Emory University, Department of Sociology. 3/05/2009.             http://www.sociology.emory.edu/globalization/contact.html

“Globalisation shakes the world” January 21, 2007. BBC News. 3/05/2009.             http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6279679.stm

“Globalization vs. Culture: The Loss of Identity” January 29, 2007. Subzero BlueU. 3/05/2009.            http://www.subzeroblue.com/archives/2007/01/globalization_vs_cul.html

“Globalization, the Internet and Public Opinion” July 1st, 2004. The Bivings Group. 3/05/2009.             http://www.bivingsreport.com/2004/globalization-the-internet-and-public-opinion/

“China’s Internet Growth Rate Outruns the World’s Average” January 14, 2009. TMCnet.com. 3/05/2009.            http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2009/01/14/3912654.htm

“Evolution and the Internet: Toward A Networked Humanity?” February 26, 2001. KurzweilAI.net. 3/05/2009.            http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0132.html

Schaeffer, Robert K. Understanding Globalization . Maryland:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2003

Catriona Purfield, Jerald Alan Schiff, Jerald Schiff, International Monetary Fund. India Goes Global. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2006