Boosting the Benefits of Digital Technologies

January 26, 2016 | 12:13
Map of submarine internet cables. By Alexander van Dijk. CC-BY license.
Map of submarine internet cables. By Alexander van Dijk. CC-BY license.
Digital technologies have the potential to greatly benefit humanity. They can spur economic growth, create jobs and provide people with new services. But the realization of that potential is not optimal, according to the World Bank. Most importantly, 60% of the world population still doesn't have access to the internet. This digital divide causes growing inequality between electronic haves and have-nots.

In its World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends, the World Bank summarizes the benefits of digital technologies in three main categories: inclusion, efficiency and innovation. The report illustrates these categories with a story about the emergence of e-commerce in so called Taobao villages in China:

“The economy of Dongfeng village in Shaji town (Jiangsu Province) shifted from pig farming in the 1980s to plastic waste recycling in the 1990s. In 2006, a migrant from the village returned to open an online shop to sell simple furniture. His success encouraged other villagers to do likewise, and by the end of 2010, the village had 6 board processing factories, 2 metal parts factories, 15 logistics and shipping companies, and 7 computer stores serving 400 households engaged in online sales throughout China and even in neighboring countries. Shaji was one of the first “Taobao villages”—named after an online shopping platform run by the Alibaba Group—where at least 10 percent of households are engaged in online commerce.”

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