Technology is increasing the breadth of Internet usage in almost all of the world’s cultural communities.
Curious? I was! And the first thing I discovered was that there are just over 7 billion people in the world. It was 6 billion last I checked. But in terms of the Internet, at the end of 2000 there were almost 361 million users. As of the middle of 2012 there were 2.4 billion people with access to the Internet. Which is a growth in Internet usage of 566% !
Impressive. But how and where that growth in Internet usage came about is even more impressive. Over one billion users in Asia is impressive, but not quite as impressive as Africa’s growth in users of 3,600% or the user growth in the Middle East of 2,640%.
But what about the remaining 4.6 billion people without the Internet?
I thought you might ask that. So I did some research and discovered that Google has a plan to bring the Internet to people who are not in proximity to a metropolitan area with Internet access. They launched Project Loon in June of this year and began testing in Fresno, August 12, 2013. What is Project Loon? Let me tell you! I think you’ll be fascinated.
Google’s first target to increase Internet usage was Geraldine, a small farming community in the interior of the South Island of New Zealand, about 85 miles from the large city of Christchurch. Google presented the project with all the secrecy of a CIA operation. They called Hayden and Anna MacKenzie to ask them to participate in “a secret project” which they wouldn’t learn about until they’d signed the papers to keep the secret. Hayden and Anna operate a fourth-generation farm, live in a cozy farmhouse and are clearly adventuresome. They agreed. Internet usage increased by two.
Two men came to their house, had them sign the papers and attached a red device to their roof, all without fully explaining the object. The next day the men returned to explain that the red ball was an antenna that would provide Internet access. This custom-designed antenna would communicate with a solar-powered balloon 60,000 feet above their home in the stratosphere.
While some might be tempted to say the idea is crazy, Google has not jumped into this without two years of research and testing. And there’s more testing yet to be done. Still, Project Loon might be thought to refer not to the key element of the balloon (‘loon), but to the bird – crazy as a Loon.
Extensive initial work to determine durability, recoverability and controllability has been carried out. An onboard solar-powered Linux computer tracks and directs for wind currents to maintain a network pattern, and signals presence or the need to replace a failing balloon. Google began testing in Fresno, close to their headquarters, just last week (August 12).
Not everyone thinks Project Loon is a good idea. Bill Gates has issues with Project Loon. Says Gates, “When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that.” Business Week interviewed Bill about the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Project Loon came up. While Bill is “a huge believer in the digital revolution,” he feels that the needs of low-income countries would be better served by active work to “do something about malaria.”
The race between technology and medical science is on. Technology is a help connecting up primary-healthcare centers and schools. But from the perspective of the 4.6 billion people without the Internet, one can only wonder how they would express their primary need. Would it be to be connected with the other billions? Are they concerned about an increase in Internet usage? Or are they concerned to be healthy and fed?
So the question, How many people use the Internet, is replaced by, How many people need the Internet. Maybe 2.4 billion is enough.