Once we talked about the “digital divide”, back in the dark days when the ability to read and write separated the wired from the unwired. Today, more than 85% of the world’s people are using the Internet – and millions of them are illiterate.
Gone is the need to type commands on a computer or cellphone keyboard to access the network. Voice has become the means of universal access, and the ‘VoiceWeb’ now dominates communication.
Speaking is all that’s required to create ‘voicesites’ – meaning that even the rural poor now use the web to work, live and play. In the words of Berkeley scientist Tapan Parikh, from the University of California:
“While a farmer may not be able to write a memo, or an email, or a summary of his work, he can easily talk about it.”
Leaps in technology combined with social change to make this happen. In 2010 a slew of governments around the world, including Britain, India, South Africa and several Scandinavian countries, announced plans to make access to the global communications network a basic human right.
The concept spread like wildfire – in the process dramatically changing the nature of marketing and media.
Businesses today deal with a much broader base of consumers, reaching right into the ‘bottom of the pyramid.’
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
It is literacy – the ability to read and write – that has long separated sectors of society. And with the advent of ubiquitous connectivity, the prospect of the illiterate, and usually poor, being permanently left behind in the economic cycle seemed an inescapable reality.
But that all changed thanks to recognition by a number of governments that access to communication in this world is effectively a basic human right. And when teams of researchers, driven in particular by the IBM India Research Laboratory, developed the VoiceWeb, the scene was set for history to be rewritten.
The biggest impact has been on the consumer market. Suddenly even the millions living in what author and strategist C.K. Prahalad called “The bottom of the pyramid” have access to global market information, and the ability to widely market their own wares and services.
Smart businesses have recognized the potential and created new products and services to serve this sector. New networks developed, and millions of people who were previously in danger of being economic cripples are now actively participating in the global economy.