The third and final divergence is in the area of technology. The prevailing narrative is that as technology continues to advance and spread, it will only make the world a better place. The obsession with hyper-connectivity suggests we may have hit something of a technology “overreach” tipping point. Connectivity has become important for its own sake because it is seen as the ultimate symbol of modernity, rather than, say, universal access to potable water, sanitation or a safe and secure food supply, the technologies for which have all existed for well over a century, and whose benefits have yet to be disseminated to the rest of the world. Even as nations converge on a purely technical and superficial level there has been an ever-greater divergence between the people who have the means and ability to devise these connective technologies and profit from them and those who have been seduced to use them. Never before has there been such a wide gap of understanding between the producers, owners and users of technology.
The producers and owners are usually affluent elites living in their virtual worlds far removed from the realities of their largest markets. They are not concerned about what a 13-year-old girl in Cambodia understands about the smartphone she has been handed. Who will guide her as she accesses images that assault her senses and gets information that she has no way of fully understanding? Does the app designer in Silicon Valley understand her cultural context and the needs and wants of a billion others half a world away? This is a divergence that obscures a truth that the technological cheerleaders will rarely admit — that proper investment in technology (in toilets rather than telecoms, for instance) has been deemed less important than searching for the massive valuation of a company whose social utility is marginal at best.
If the true aim of technology is to make the world a better place, then we already possess almost all the necessary tools to do so.
If the true aim of technology is to make the world a better place, then we already possess almost all the necessary tools to do so. What we lack are the appropriate political systems and institutions to put new business models into action and the willingness to change an inherently ineffective and unfair economic model.
So if we have come to believe that we are entering the age of convergence, then we need to think again. Globalization may have flattened the world in many ways, but it has also trampled on it. We must accept that convergence is not the only game in town.