Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Primitive Perspectives
Information Age vs. Stone Age

By David G. Young

Madang, Papua New Guinea, April 22, 2001 --  

As the talking head business analysts continue to talk trash about the Internet economy and the newest developments of the Information Revolution, information technologies still seem like a fantastic dream from the perspective of a dusty rubbish-strewn parking lot in one of the least developed countries in the world.

Papua New guinea may seem an unlikely venue to discuss the merits of information technologies. PNG, as it is locally known, has virtually no Internet access -- let alone penetration -- and even a spotty telephone network. Phones often don't work, and when they do, land lines are of such poor quality that they have to be relayed by expensive radio and satellite services that they are unaffordable luxuries rather than tools of business.

Transportation is over horrible roads -- where they even exist -- and often land vehicles are forced to drive on riverbeds to get around. Arranging transport is extremely difficult due to a complete lack of published timetables and ticketing systems for the public motor vehicles that serve as the informal long-distance bus network in the country.

Want to travel to Lae from Madang? Then you have to wake up at 5 a.m., wait in a dirty lot for hours, hoping the minibuses come. When you see them, you have to run up to them with the crowd hoping to get a seat on the bus -- if it is even going in your direction. If you don't get on, you have to wait around all day to see if another comes, and if not, try again the next day.

What does this have to do with the Internet economy? Absolutely nothing -- and that's exactly the problem. People in the United States and other high-tech countries take for granted things like timetables, reserved tickets, central offices with information available, toll-free hotlines, and web sites selling seats to get things like this done. When such an information infrastructure is totally absent, the inefficiencies are stunning from a Western perspective.

People who discount the power of the information revolution are able to do so solely because they are so spoiled by its benefits that they can't readily see the advantages on a day to day basis.

Because the Internet-powered economy is so efficient, the advantages become unseen and soon are discounted by naysaying analysts as purely theoretical. As a consumer stranded in a dusty parking lot in Papua New Guinea, I can assure you the advantages are quite real, indeed.

NOTE: David G. Young ended up waiting in the airport all day to find out the next available flight time, then took a plane back to Port Moresby. He is currently relishing his high-speed Internet Access in Sydney, Australia.