Consuming Content and Sharing Knowledge in an Interconnected World

My brother recently informed me that he had installed new disk brakes on his truck entirely by himself. Albeit an intelligent man, I knew for a fact that he had never performed such an operation before. I asked where he had suddenly gained the skills and knowhow to take apart his vehicle, to which he simply replied, “YouTube.” To my astonishment, searching “1994 Ford Ranger Disk Brake” yielded over 2,000 results, many of which were step-by-step tutorials.

We live in a day and age where, if you’re unsure of what to make for dinner, you can just search “recipes” on Pinterest and be inundated with options. While DIY crafts, home décor tips and BuzzFeed Top 20 lists may not represent technology at its finest, they are indicative of something much larger — the desire of everyday people to share their knowledge. So how does this translate to global development? It could mean a free education, the start of a small business enterprise, templates for new homes, and so much more.

Many believe education is our best investment in the future, and yet so many in our world do not have access to it. In remote and impoverished areas, it is often difficult to ensure proper funding, adequate facilities and trained instructors. The UN estimates that 1.6 million additional new teachers are required to reach universal primary education, and almost three times that many to reach basic secondary education.

Not only have many colleges and universities begun offering online courses and degrees, there are also free educational resources popping up in a variety of places. Khan Academy has become quite popular, offering micro lectures on everything from third grade math to differential equations, and microeconomics to art history. Their slogan reads, “For free, for everyone, forever.” While Khan Academy students lack the counseling provided by in-person instructors, there is something to be said about the benefits of moving at a comfortable pace. As Salman Khan stated, “The worst time to learn something is when someone is standing over your shoulder going ‘Do you get it?’”

While Khan Academy is exceptional, it is not totally unique. New sites are appearing everyday with tutorials on how to code, how to use computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, and basic engineering.

Meanwhile, an unlimited amount of content can be found on open source sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia, with everyday users sharing information. Every minute, 100 hours of video are added to YouTube. A budding entrepreneur can search for tips on starting a business, a teenager can get inspired by TED Talk lectures from the most renowned thinkers of our time and students can watch full-length educational documentaries.

Digital technology is not only making it easier to be self-taught, it is also increasing the ability of users worldwide to participate in global conversations. Social media has dramatically changed civic engagement.

In 2013, when Kenya held their first televised debates for general elections, there was a massive influx of citizens taking to Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag “#OccupyParliament.” Other instances such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street demonstrate how this digital agency can influence large-scale social movements.

Similarly to civic engagement, the nature of international aid has progressed with the digital age to allow individuals more autonomy. The advent of microloan programs such as Kiva and World Vision Micro stimulate economic empowerment in small business owners, and they can build up an online profile to engage in direct loan exchanges.

While digital technology may help open doors to education, engagement and aid, more than a few barriers remain. Not only must individuals get their hands on a mobile phone or computer, they also require one with internet capabilities. Computers go idle in classrooms because their lack of connection renders them useless, say World Possible, an organization focused on bringing relevant online content to developing countries in an offline format.

With more and more people pressing their noses to their phones and carrying around multiple devices everywhere they go, what does the future look like? Some dread the continuing speed at which technology is moving, and our reliance on technology in some instances can be crippling. In 2015, the number of cell phones on this earth will surpass the number of people. How will we let that shape our lives and our world?