Why do we assume that advances in technology will reduce inequality? It has something to do with the law of amplification, explains Kentaro Toyama in the next post as part of the Not Evenly Distributed blog series.
Since the 1970s, the United States has witnessed an explosion of digital technologies: the internet, the PC industry, mobile phones, Google, Facebook, iPhone apps… Almost everything we tout as a digital success was invented or widely disseminated in the last forty-odd years. Yet over that same time period, in the same country where these innovations took hold, can we say that things have really improved? By many obvious measures, the answer is no: the rate of poverty has not declined, politics has not become more civil, and inequality has increased, dramatically.
In other words, even in America, a golden age of technology hasn’t reduced poverty or inequality; if anything, disparities have widened. Why, then, should we expect that technology will reduce inequalities elsewhere?
Today, thanks to a pervasive mobile phone network, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere are better able to keep in touch with distant family. Some have smartphones and keep in touch on Facebook. Without doubt, that communication is priceless. Ultimately, though, the technology has done little to change their prospects. Millions upon millions of refugees remain in camps with no opportunity to work and limited access to education for their children. (And let’s not forget the many people left in Syria, including those who couldn’t afford the trek to escape.)
[Image: Graph of the rate of poverty in the United States from 1959 to 2013. Poverty levels remain relatively stable despite significant technological developments during the same period]