the Information Revolution
and the Beijing Conference

How fast are computer networks growing?

The Internet is a global network of computers linked by high-speed datalines and wireless systems. It was established in 1969 as a militarycommunications system. It allows individuals to access information from manysources using a computer.[3] The use of the Internet more than doubled in sizein 1995 and has done so every year since 1988, becoming the fastest-growingcommunications medium ever.

Measuring the real Internet population, its use disaggregated by sex,the size of the potential demand and the trends for growth is difficult, andresults are often contradictory. The special nature of the medium and itsrapid development throw up new figures every day. Some sources have estimatedthat a new web site is launched on the Internet every four seconds.

It is difficult to gauge reliably the size and demographic profile ofusers, because user-tracking software remains inadequate, and it is notpossible, for example, to distinguish new "hits" from repeat visits to a site.Nevertheless. it is estimated that the Internet links 50 million users in morethan 80 countries worldwide. Some consider that this will increase to around300 million in the next five years. [4]

The WWW is the fastest-growing segment of the Internet, growing at rateof 3,000 per cent every year. It allows exchange of multimedia data (text,audio, video, graphics and animation) between users connected to the Internetusing hypertext links.

In the United States, which has taken the lead in the market, datasuggest that there are between 16.4 million[5] and 37 million people (in theU.S. and Canada) [6] who have access to the Internet, spending an average of 5hours 28 minutes per week on line. Users in Europe are 5 to 8 million ormore. In Japan, there are approximately 4 million users. [7] In Latin America,electronic mail is rapidly replacing regular mail, as it is much moreefficient. [8] In Africa, new Internet domains have been registered in the lastyear in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Djibouti and Madagascar. In countriessuch as Kenya, Namibia and Senegal, the number of domains is rising rapidly.Kenya has around 133, compared with South Africa's more than 83,000. [9]

In terms of market size, the global Internet market is expected to soarto $200 billion by the year 2000 [10] The Internet Society expects 120 millionhosts to be connected to the Internet by the end of the decade, up from 9.5million in 1996. [11] Investment bankers at Morgan Stanley project that thenumber of Web users will jump from 9 million in 1995 to more than 150 millionbyr 2000. [12]

Source: "Cyberatlas", The Internet Research Guide, I/PRO, July 1996, WWW site
Forecast of Internet markets by segment (millions of US$)
Network Services (ISPs)
Hardware (routers, modems, computer hardware)
Software (server, applications)
Enabling services (electronic commerce, directory services, web tracking
Expertise (system integrators, business consultants)
Content and activity (on-line entertainment, information, shopping)
Total market

Markets for Internet-related products may be largely a function ofaccess. Many countries in the developing world do not have access tocomputers; some do not have reliable electricity or telephone service tosupport the CNTs, and in places where the capacity exists or is growing, thereis need for training, and for resources for time on line.

Supporting technology transfer from industrialized to developingcountries, some assistance is being given by international organizations,bilateral donors and computer companies for acquisition of computers andtraining. For example, since 1994 the United Nations Economic Commission forAfrica has increased the number of electronic domains -- mother computersunder which host computers are hooked into the Internet in Africa. The UNDPSustainable Development Networking Programme is heading an effort to bringconnectivity to developing countries in a participatory manner that wouldenable women's and other groups to have access to the Internet. USAID, withthe Leland initiative, is another significant player -- focused on Africa.

Use of the Internet is spreading rapidly because of the relatively lowcost of the basic infrastructure. However, the information revolution hascontinued to perpetuate many inequalities. The majority of people around theworld do not participate on an equal basis, either as participants or asproducers.

While the potential of the new medium has been recognized, it is clearthat until its use has spread to developing countries, and to all groups insociety, including women, it reinforces existing inequalities. Mr. MatheDiseko, First Secretary of the South African Permanent Mission to the UnitedNations, stated in a speech to the United Nations Economic and Social Councilon 16 July 1996 that:

For those in possession of information technology, power, influence, privileged status and domination are further enhanced and assured. The reverse is true for those without access to informatics. But it has also great chances of contributing to equity, development and progress, permitting those lagging behind to leap-frog to more advanced stages of development. Informatics has enormous potential to redress the disparities and material inequalities of our world the cheapest and fastest way. But in it are also great possibilities of accentuating our material inequalities, the powerlessness of the have-nots and the misery of millions bypassed by the information superhighway. [13]

The Taub Urban Research Center at New York University recently publisheda study based on data gathered by two consulting firms in the United States.Entitled "Leaders and Losers on the Internet", it addresses the impact of theInternet on urbanization. It notes that while many had predicted that globalcomputer networking could decentralize work and living patterns, to date theimpact of the Internet has been mainly to reinforce the economic andintellectual leadership of a handful of urban centres and nearby suburbs. [14] Computer science professor David Gelernter of Yale University, in commentingon the study, said that it showed that Internet connections were spreadingbeyond university- and computer-based origins into centres of affluent, well-educated people. He expressed doubts, however, about the economic and culturaladvantages of having many Internet connections. [15] The introduction of CNTsis raising new questions about the theory of technology-led urban decline inindustrialized societies. For developing countries, it may become another ofthe factors attracting people to urban areas.

While the new medium includes the potential for democratizinginformation and communications as a result of its interactive andparticipatory nature, evidence suggests that fewer women than men use the newtechnologies and that the computer environment is often hostile or denigratingto women and includes forms of sexual harassment. [16] Women, nevertheless, area fast-growing segment of the Internet's user population.

Sources estimate that 82 per cent of Internet users worldwide are male;others estimate that 34 per cent of Internet users are women. [17] Most of thefemale users seem to be located in North America, especially in the UnitedStates. Even in the United States, the estimate of female Internet usersvaries from 29 per cent to 36 per cent. [18]

Surveys have shown that men are much more likely than women to use theWWW. However, women are slightly more likely than men to use Internet E-mailand to participate in Internet mailing lists, underscoring a strongpredisposition among women toward Internet communications features. [19] Womenare also more likely than men to use the Internet exclusively from work oracademic locations, while men are more likely to use it from multiplelocations, including after-hours use from home.

Internet Navigation needs to be more intuitive. With men, the computer tends to be perceived as a gadget... . Women see the computer more as an efficiency vehicle. (Jodi DeLeon, Microsoft Network Product Manager, quoted in "What Women want On-Line", Interactive Media & Marketing, 6 November 1995)

The contribution of women to Internet tools such as the UseNetnewsgroups is "typically not very high, but the actual numbers are subject todebate. In the unmoderated feminist newgroups, approximately 80 per cent ofthe messages are posted by men. In the moderated feminist groups, there isusually about a 50/50 balance between women and men." [20] Different networksattract different audiences. SeniorNet, a consumer-oriented on-line-serviceavailable on America On-line that caters to the 'mature market', reports thattheir audience mix is 51 per cent female and 49 per cent male. For otherservices such as CompuServe, Genie and Prodigy "between 60-90 per cent of thecustomers are male." [21]


Women, the Information Revolution and the
Beijing Conference
  • Introduction
  • How fast are computer networks growing?
  • How are women using the information
  • What did the Fourth World Conference on
    Women say about Electronic Networking?
  • Conclusions
    Key Terms to Know
    Did you Know?
    Selected Bookmarks on
    Women's Issues
    Notable Events

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