The Global Information Market Place

(suq al-`alami dyal ma`alumat)

Douglas A. Davis, Ph.D.
Haverford College

Notes for a presentation at Dar America, Rabat
30 November, 1995

In the past several years, explosive growth of the Internet and of powerful data-retrieval software have made it easy for millions of persons with low-cost Internet access to read text files, to view pictures, and to enjoy audio and motion-picture data from around the world by means of their personal computer. The most revolutionary Internet development is the World Wide Web (WWW), a vast collection of hypermedia links to databases and interactive systems. Using Netscape or similar software, the user simply points to a highlighted item on a page and clicks it to retrieve information from a remote Internet site. One Web page may contain links to text, graphics, and multimedia resources, and these may be located anywhere in the Internet world. The result is a global information resource so easy to use that even elementary schools--as well as colleges, municipalities, and businesses--are creating their own local sets of pictorial and text data and making these immediately available to the rest of the network. Since the local site creates the page that points to Internet resources, this page may be in any language--and the multi-language capabilities of recent Windows and Macintosh software make it possible, for example, for a Moroccan Internet resource base to be accessed in Arabic, French, and English.

Networked computer resources are readily available at most US colleges and universities, and millions of American families have home computing systems connected to the Internet. Children begin to develop the skills needed for navigation of the Web as they play interactive computer games. These resources are not equally accessible to all, however, due to the high cost of hardware and to gender, social class, and individual personality differences in interest in computers. Access to the Internet may cost five to twenty times as much in some communities as in others. Poor and inner-city youth are less likely to have easy individual access to computers in public school and at home. As a result they are much less likely to develop personal familiarity and comfort with computers as tools, and they have largely failed to reap the benefits of the computer revolution. Clearly, access to computer technology and global networks is crucial if "North-South" gaps between countries are not to be exacerbated. Most text resources of the Internet are produced in English, and the multimedia resources currently available have a distinctly American flavor. For the global information market place to become a reality, the entrenched bureaucracies controlling communication and media development must give way to fluid, horizontal collections of data user-creators, each having access to the Web. A new generation, citizens of a world information culture, will come to be when access is child's play.