In technologically advanced economies, things like broadband video-on-demand, municipal WiFi coverage and the mobile internet are becoming commonplace. But in place like Jordan and other ‘developing world’ countries even a dial up connection is a luxury that the masses cannot afford.
The cost of connecting to the net in Jordan, for example, is higher that Europe in absolute terms. Don’t even start making a comparison that takes average incomes into consideration.
So what’s the alternative for the masses?
I call it the Plastic Internet. Yes you read it right and you read it here first.
Here is a little quiz for you: What is the fastest way to transfer a 10 hollywood movies or 10 Gigabytes of software to a user’s PC in Jordan.
A DSL connection?
A plastic bag containing a few plastic discs and a trip downtown or your neighborhood ‘CD place’.
A recent trip to one of those little store in downtown Amman, overflowing with CDs and DVDs, confirmed to me that the Plastic Internet is in full swing. And it’s not just hollywood movies. Islamic CDs, SAP banking systems, edutainment, Arabic TV shows.. you name it. Believe or not, my brother once brought me a CD that was supposedly full of documentaries about free energy from the Plastic Internet (it turned out that the wrongly labeled disk contained a collection of PC utilities, but you get the point).
The Plastic Internet, I would argue could even be more potent in affecting society that the wired/wireless internet:
It caters to the interests of the people, as the CD merchants try to optimize their inventory to generate maximum sales.
It offers an ULTRA broadband experience. Imagine a pickup truck loaded with boxes full of DVDs. What net connection can beat that?
It is harder to monitor and control by any authority. Any CD can still be sold under the counter or in some dark alley. People copy CDs and DVDs at home on cheap PCs.
It is affordable. And you pay only once to ‘own the content’.
The clearest drawback of the Plastic Internet is that it is not interactive. Yet. People have to browse in the shop, then choose something and go home. They cannot leave comments or share their opinions with each other. The social connectivity of the net is not there.
But I can envision people, political groups and organizations using the Plastic Internet to distribute their own content or media mash-ups. In fact this is already happening, when you consider all the stuff you can find its shelves and street stalls.
Many people are interested in the effects of the web and mobile phones on Arab societies. I wonder if anyone is paying any systematic attention to the Plastic Internet.
I am not saying that web and mobile technologies are not having an effect. The are. But there is another information revolution at work that no one seems to be considering seriously.