Today I’m providing a bit of an update on the penetration of internet usage around the world. Six months ago I blogged about the internet and how the UN predicted that around one-third of the world has access to the internet. The same UN agency that predicted this six months ago, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has released a study that shows that next year there will be as many mobile phone subscriptions in the world as there are people (seven billion). As the Dubai Chronicle reports:

“It is predicted that towards the end of this year, the mobile penetration will hit 96% on a worldwide level. This rate will be equal to 89% in the developing world and to nearly 130% in the developed one.”

Added to the spread of mobile phones, many of which are internet capable (not mine though, it barely texts and receives calls – I’m so counter-cultural!) is the ITU’s predictions about the further internet spread throughout the globe.  By the end of 2013, it is predicted that 40% of the population (2.7 billion people) will be using the web.  Interestingly, the oldest continent in the world (Europe) will have the highest internet connectivity rate at 75%.  So perhaps older people are not as technologically backward as we may otherwise think… Now this figure of 40% doesn’t mean that 40% of people have internet in their home – around 90% of the world’s households do not have internet access.  It means instead that 40% of people have access to the internet (presumably through work, public spaces etc).  A final interesting fact is that the ITU has announced which countries have the fastest internet speeds. The list includes Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong (no surprises there) and also Iceland, Bulgaria and Portugal. So any readers from those countries will be able to access at ultra-fast speeds. I am very envious of you.  

What does this all mean? I think that we have not yet realised what an incredibly different world we live in thanks to the internet. It has overtaken us at an incredibly rapid pace. Now we have access to an unbelievable amount of information and can connect with people all around the globe virtually instantaneously. And more and more of us can do it wherever we are through smart-phones. This brings us a wealth of potential knowledge – we can visit informative and interesting websites (like this one). But as in all things human, it is not an unqualified good. At a parenting course last weekend we discussed the implications of unrestricted access to the internet, how to protect your children – particularly when they visit a friend’s house where you have no idea on what is going on or the level of supervisions. This is a novel problem for this generation – it was not something that my parents needed to be concerned about (and as I keep telling myself, I’m not that old…) So what do you think? The internet is making us more connected. But for what purpose? what are we using the internet for? How is it changing our behaviour and how we think? I’m not sure that we can really answer those questions, but I’m sure that the impact that the internet is having on us and our society is immense.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...