Confirmed: The Internet Does Not Solve Global Inequality

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Despite the Internet's global reach, the lion's share of the content comes from the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world.
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Oxford Internet Institute

If you live in a rich country, the Internet has probably changed the way you consume (and produce) information. But when you look at global-scale knowledge production, things are as they ever were: the Anglophone world dominates with the United States doing the lion's share of academic and user-generated publishing.

Those are the messages of the Oxford Internet Institute's new e-book, Geographies of the World's Knowledge, from which these two graphics were drawn. In the book's foreword, Corinne Flick of the Convoco Foundation reluctantly concludes that the Internet has not delivered on the hopes that it would make knowledge "more accessible."

"Many commentators speculated that [the Internet] would allow people outside of industrialised nations to gain access to all networked and codified knowledge, thus mitigating the traditionally concentrated nature of information production and consumption," she writes. "These early expectations remain largely unrealised." 

We're not only talking about publishing in academic journals or Wikipedia. The book's authors, Mark Graham, Monica Stephens, Scott A. Hale, and Kunika Kono, sampled user-generated content on Google and found that rich countries, especially the United States, dominate the production of user content.

The fact of the matter is that people without money can't afford to get the education necessary to publish in academic journals, Internet-enabled or not. The other fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in very poor countries don't spend their time producing content for free. Hope as we might, the Internet isn't a magic wand that makes the world more equal. user-gen_615.jpg

Oxford Internet Institute

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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