It’s pretty obvious that developed countries almost seem to be on a different planet from those with emerging economies when one considers use of high-tech devices and their visibility in the human environment.
But now an invisible divide between the haves and have-nots has emerged, and that is the gulf between the attitudes of those living in such divergent economies.
A global study released by Microsoft last week shows that, while most internet users say personal technology has improved their lives, far more users in developing countries say it has improved social bonds.
The report, titled Views from Around the Globe: 2nd Annual Poll on How Personal Technology Is Changing Our Lives, is based on interviews with more than 12 000 internet users from 12 countries.
The most fascinating aspect of the study is how greater pervasiveness of technology seems to result in reduced enthusiasm for specific benefits, such as fitness and the sharing economy.
Instead, those with greater access tend to express greater concern about issues like privacy. Naturally, such issues are less important in environments where the implications of pervasive connectedness have not yet become apparent.
The key overall findings, according to Microsoft, include:
- Most respondents across all 12 countries think personal technology has had a positive impact on their ability to find more affordable products, start new businesses and be more productive;
- Most respondents say it has benefited social activism;
- More respondents than in the previous year said technology had had a positive impact on transportation and literacy;
- Fewer than in the previous year said it has benefited social bonds, personal freedom and political expression;
- Concern about technology’s impact on privacy jumped significantly with most users across 11 of the 12 countries surveyed saying technology’s effect on privacy was mostly negative; and
- Majorities in all countries except India and Indonesia said current legal protections for users of personal technology were insufficient.
However, marked differences began to emerge when responses from developing countries were grouped, says Zoaib Hoosen, managing director of Microsoft South Africa.
“In developing countries, 60% of respondents said technology had a positive impact on social bonds, versus only 36% in developed countries.
That’s a very significant difference.
“The sharing economy, with its online services like Uber, are seen as having a positive impact in in developing countries, while in developed countries they still preferred traditional services.
“The issue there is that they often didn’t have a viable alternative in developing countries, whereas such services in developed countries merely add additional options. It’s about leapfrogging traditional services that don’t exist versus disruption of existing services. The former has a bigger impact.”
Better, more vital
Nevertheless, says Mark Penn, Microsoft executive vice-president and chief strategy officer, “internet users overwhelmingly say that personal technology is making the world better and more vital”.
The area that saw the greatest divergence was the effect of technology on trust in the media, says Penn.
“By a 2:1 margin, respondents in developing countries think personal technology has had a mostly positive effect on trust in the media. But in developed countries, the impression is the opposite: respondents believe by a 2:1 margin that the effect on trust in the media has been mostly negative.”
The key factor behind this attitude divide appears to be the media habits of respondents, and dependence on social media.
“These opposing views are borne out in the two kinds of countries’ media habits,” says Penn. “In developing countries, 70% of respondents get most of their news from social media, compared to only 31% in developed countries.”
With social media access accelerating in developing countries, thanks to rapidly-growing access on phones, that divide is unlikely to be bridged very soon.
The poll, conducted in the last two weeks of December 2014, included internet users in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States.