The changing world and digital poles

Under the definition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Digital Divide (DD) refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographical areas at different economic-social levels in the two axes of "Access to communication and information technologies" and "Use of the Internet for various and diverse applications".
12 August 2023
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Mehdi Salami

Under the definition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Digital Divide (DD) refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographical areas at different economic-social levels in the two axes of "Access to communication and information technologies" and "Use of the Internet for various and diverse applications".

In the 1990s and before the arrival of digital media, thinkers referred to the existence of the "Analog Divide" and this term referred to access to traditional media technologies such as radio, television, and telephone. In addition to the inequality in access and consumption, there were also structural inequalities in production that still exist. This caused that for many years, the western media by dominating news, television and cinema programs worldwide continued increasingly in monopolistic preservation of technology. The emergence of the digital divide will gradually lead to developing countries’ backwardness in science and technology, and the consequence of the deepening of this gap can ultimately lead to the economic, cultural and social vulnerability of countries against technology owners.

Less means more

Today, the two important elements "time" and "cost" have become decisive elements in the competition between international relations actors and have significantly affected the speed of their progress or backwardness. This slogan, "Do more in less time (Less is more)", especially with the emergence of artificial intelligence, has become the policy of technology giants and modern governments. Therefore, the superpowers are competing to acquire and exploit this part of the magic of the digital age. As a result of this struggle, the actors who have more capacity and more up-to-date technology will have a greater share of the economic, political, cultural, and social cake of the future order and will have more weight, generally.

Digital poles

It seems that the existing order of international relations is changing and technology is the central area of this competition and conflict. One of the characteristics of power in the international system is the ability to lead the flow of information and influence "knowledge". An actor is able to plan with no physical presence and by changing the cognitive taste of societies, institutions, organizations and even governments, to achieve the desired goals, and this can be realized by relying on the magic of the digital world. Among the experts in technology and information, it is certain that the future world will be based on big data and the recognition and evaluation of the identity of people, societies and institutions {for decision makers} will be nothing but digital information. Therefore, investing in this area is justified to make macro and forward-looking decisions more accurate for governmental and non-governmental actors.

Considering the influence and financial and technological capabilities of the two countries of the United States and China, it seems that in addition to the political and economic polarities, we are moving towards a digital bipolar world. Each of these actors has advanced communication facilities and infrastructure in different countries and thus they have access to a huge range of big data. It seems that one of the most important reasons for America's dissatisfaction with the entry of Chinese communication technology giants such as ZTE and Huawei into European is China's possible lack of access to Western big data. Moreover, the trade tariff battle and extensive restrictions on China's access to the latest generation of semiconductors seem logical in this format. In addition, China's digital silk road and the plans hidden in it can be seen as a kind of representation of the country's goal in growing and moving in this direction.

On the other hand, due to the fact that access to advanced technology and communication infrastructure (super advanced software and hardware, modern chips and new generation communication facilities such as 5G and later 6G) is not possible for many countries of the world, governments are inevitably required to enter one of the Internet blocks are made in China or America. These blocks can include access to all kinds of information, artificial intelligence models, Metaverse space, financial and banking systems and many things related to the digital space. This quote from Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, that: in the future, there will be a "splitting of the Chinese-led Internet as well as the US-led non-Chinese Internet" can confirm this.

Henry Kissinger also mentions in his book written in 2021 on artificial intelligence that today, America looks at internet platforms as a kind of "international strategy"; Therefore, the restrictions of some foreign networks in this regard (such as TikTok) and the restriction of the export of software and technology necessary for the growth of foreign competitors are included in this area. On the other hand, the Chinese government has taken steps to change the standards of internet platforms by adopting its own strategies. Now, it can be seen that the Chinese diaspora even in America use Chinese platforms like WeChat in their daily financial and communication affairs. Perhaps the recent pressure of the American court on the Chinese company TikTok to transfer its data centers to American and control its information can be related to this context.

Currently, some believe that China's politicians are not trying to preserve or improve the current order, but are preparing to face the new order after the existing order ends. It should be mentioned that the Chinese government has established a new and different digital world within the mainland many years ago and by localizing the Internet and even different platforms (social network, messengers, GPS, financial transactions, etc.), obliging domestic users to has used them. China is simulating all kinds of artificial intelligence in Chinese form and even Chatgpt models with its own features (like ErnieBot).

Naturally, international relations actors, if they rely on any internet (digital) block, must greet the new world by accepting their written or unwritten rules. Despite the polarized digital world, different standards are implemented in its different poles; In addition, the subset of each pole becomes the sphere of influence and the backyard of that superpower.

Mahdi Salami, Expert

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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