My passion is educating for digital equality. I want to make a difference in the world, through reporting and speaking about the digital revolution. I never talk about server parks. I never talk about fiber cables. It’s always about the people – and how this massive transition that we are all a part of is changing lives, business, politics, love and society as a whole. Big and small. I am not a consultant. I will never tell you what to do. I will tell you what I see in the world – and ask of you to learn together with me: How does this apply to you? Where do we end up, if we apply your experience to the playing field I can lay out for you? I always custom make my talks, in close collaboration with clients. But then sometimes – news breaks. Something arises that needs special attention. So let me take this opportunity to describe how our view of the digital world effects the most urgent issue of today.
In author Vilhelm Moberg’s epic novel “The Emigrants”, the story of the Swedish starvation disaster in the 1800s is told better than anywhere else. Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson chose carefully: what should they take with them on the journey from hunger to freedom and prosperity on American soil? They settled for the essentials. But Karl Oskar made an exception. He packed his dead daughter’s shoes. The shoes made it into the boxes they brought, as a reminder of why they had to leave. During the last weeks of dramatic events, it has become necessary for me and for many others to take a step forward and be a citizen – to live and breathe through fellow human beings lives.
I was walking around in my house one evening. I tried to think: What would we pack, were we forced to flee in the morning? The very first thing I would take would be cell phones, chargers and battery packs. Maybe even our thinnest and smallest computer. Some foreign sim cards that I have lying around too, you never know. Food of course, as compact as possible, and money and credit cards, even though they might not be possible to use. I’d get a pacifier and a stuffed animal for my little one. Millions of people have to make these decisions right now. Every so often, I hear someone question how ”real” these refugees are – they have phones, right? Can’t be too bad off? That is downright dumb on so many levels. Partly because the phones today are cheap. Partly because phones are the obvious communication path to anyone, and the key to the internet, which means everything from being able to get a train ticket to connect via Facebook, to maps and an opportunity to transfer money. It is simply more important to have a phone than to have good clothes, or enough food for the week. I would have made that priority, and I think that almost everyone would.
Then, of course, the most central insight of them all: War affects all. These people lived an ordinary middle-class life, they were mechanics and hairdressers and doctors and restaurateurs. These people do not come to the West from a tent or a cave, but from a life where it until just now was a safe to send the kids to school, and where the internet was a central part of daily life. This is the world we live in. This is the world in which from now on will do business and develop society together. This is the world where it actually makes sense to introduce the Facebook stock at Nasdaq at a value that may look ridiculous at first. It’s only ridiculous if you haven’t grasped what sort of massive change we are going through. Two young men, fleeing from first Syria and then Libya, described recently in Swedish media how they took great personal risks bringing their laptops, wrapped in plastic, taped to their own backs. ”I wanted to try to get a quick start to get working once I reached Europe. I couldn’t do that without a computer with an Arabic keyboard, and there is no way I can afford a new one right now”, one of them said.
This is how we all should observe our time: We live in the digital age. Three billion people are online, four billion aren’t, but will be within ten years. Doing business tomorrow? Building society tomorrow? Fleeing tomorrow? We should all pack the internet.
Andreas Ekstrom is a Swedish author and journalist, and a frequent speaker around the world, talking about how the digital revolution affects our lives.