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Now for the attitude divide

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The digital divide between developed and developing countries is no longer only about access to technology. A gulf also exists in attitudes to technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s pretty obvious that developed countries almost seem to be a 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 also 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 believe personal technology has improved their lives, far more users in developing countries believe it has improved social bonds.

The report, entitled “Views from Around the Globe: 2nd Annual Poll on How Personal Technology Is Changing Our Lives,” is based on interviews with more than12 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, like 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. Most users across 11 of the 12 countries surveyed said technology’s effect on privacy was mostly negative.
  • • 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 per cent of respondents said technology had a positive impact on social bonds, versus only 36 per cent in developing 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.”

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 per cent of respondents get most of their news from social media, compared to only 31 per cent 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 U.S.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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New BMW 3-series ushers in autonomous future

The new BMW 3-series is not meant to be an autonomous car, but it is so close, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers.

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It was not meant to be a test-drive of an autonomous vehicle. But the Driving Assist button on the steering wheel of the new BMW 330i was just too tempting. And there I found myself, on Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town, “driving” with my arms folded while the vehicle negotiated curves on its own.

Every 10 seconds or so, yellow or red lights flashed to alert me to put my hands back on the wheel. The yellow lights meant the car wanted me to put my hands on the wheel, just to show that I was in control. The red lights meant that I had to take over control from the artificial intelligence built into the vehicle.

With co-driver Ernest Page, we negotiated a major highway, the bends of Sir Lowry’s pass, and the passes of Hell’s Heights (Hel se Hoogte) above the Cape Winelands.

As the above video of the experience reveals, it can be nerve-racking for someone who hasn’t experienced autonomous driving, or hasn’t been dreaming of testing it for many years. For this driver, it was exhilarating. Not because the car performed so magnificently, but because it tells us just how close true autonomous driving really is.

There was one nervous moment when the autonomous – or rather, Driving Assist – mode disengaged on Hell’s Heights, but fear not. A powerful sense of responsibility prevailed, and my hands hovered over the steering wheel as it took the curve. Assist disengaged, and the car began to veer towards the other side of the road. I quickly took over, and also sobered up from the giddiness of thinking I was already in the future.

In reality, Driving Assist is part of level 2 of driving autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A presentation on the evening of the test drive, by Edward Makwana, manager of group product communications at BMW Group in South Africa, summed up the five stages as the driver having Feet Off, Hands Off, Eyes Off, Mind off, and finally, only being a Passenger.

However, the extent to which the hands-off mode of Driving Assist mimics self-driving, and easily shows the way to eyes-off and mind-off, is astonishing.

Click here to read about the components that make the Driving Assist work.

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