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ITU Internet Report 2006: (Chapter Five)

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chapter five: living the digital world

The telecommunications industry began as a digital-only world. The dots and dashes of the electronic telegraph that “made the world one”, in Arthur C. Clarke’s famous phrase, were not only digital in nature; they were also generated by the “digits” of an army of telegraph operators around the world. Between the invention of the telephone, in 1876, and the development of the first digital switch, exactly 100 years later, the telecommunications industry took an analogue detour. But rapid innovation over the last few decades indicates that the digital world is firmly back on track. And although the transition from the analogue to the digital world is not yet complete, the direction of change is clear and irreversible.

A digital world poses a number of important challenges. For instance, the increasing complexity of technology should not be at the expense of basic simplicity of use. The development of user-friendly systems must be encouraged, in order to ensure that a maximum number of people can use digital technology with a minimum amount of training. Only then can we be sure that the process of going digital is both inclusive and global and that the transition between the old and the new is smooth and rapid.

Another important challenge to the digital world is ensuring regulatory consistency, particularly in an environment of rapid technological change. This includes considerations related to technological neutrality, market definitions, regulatory timing and regulatory forbearance. The borderless spaces of the digital world also raise concerns about content, in particular the kind of “frontiers” we may wish to maintain in order to mirror, or reinforce, known frontiers in the offline (physical) world. Convergence (as reflected in services like mobile and internet TV) is bringing together three different regulatory cultures: the content-regulated culture of the broadcasting sector, the carrier-led culture of telecommunications, and the “regulation is interference” culture of the internet. Needless to say, it is a potentially explosive mix. A final challenge is to extend the benefits of digital lifestyles to all the world’s inhabitants: by enabling everyone, everywhere, not only to access and utilize information and knowledge, but also to create and share it.

In order to gain a glimpse of how digital lifestyles might continue to evolve, an example of a typical “digital day”, at some unspecified time in the future, is illustrated overleaf. Ultimately, the digital world is a user-driven one in which consumers who are not happy with a particular service provider or website can easily switch to another. It is a footloose world, with a very low cost of switching for users and a relatively low cost of entry for service providers. It is a world in which traditional barriers to communication, like geography, language and social class, disintegrate. What is more, users can also participate in creating their own services and content. In the physical world, the height of most people’s ambition is to find proper employment, develop a hobby, purchase a home of one’s own, decorate it to reflect a chosen lifestyle, and fill it with their friends and family. We can now do this in the digital world too. So perhaps digital dreams are not so different, after all.

other chapters' summaries
chapter 1: going digital
chapter 2:
chapter 3:
chapter 4:
statistical highlights


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Updated : 2011-04-04