Can we drink data?

Fuentes: Global Digital Report, 2019 & World Health Organization, 2017

Compared to the 2% increase of unique worldwide mobile users  (it reached 5.11 billion this year) the 9% rise in internet users is even more significant. According to Global Digital Report 2019[1], today there are 4.39 billion internet users globally. If the same tendency continues, within a very short period of time, their number will surpass the 5.3 billion people (71% of the global population) that currently have access to safely managed drinking-water service,. (World Health Organization, 2017)[2].

There will be more people with access to internet than to clean water.

Perhaps Joan Subirats quote is the best way to summarize what this data makes me feel and think:

“The new technologies are the answer. What was the question?”   

According to the promoters, the 5G technology is bringing greater accessibility. It will provide uninterrupted and consistent connectivity, higher resolution, larger bandwidth and above all greater speed which will allow users to download a movie in just few seconds.

Unfortunately, it will not provide clean water.

By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. (WHO, 2017) Will the high speed, high resolution download alleviate the thirst?

We can’t drink data!!!

The technology has become the major metanarrative whose role is to step in to fill in the void caused by the withdrawal of other, traditional, metanarratives, such as Marxism, liberalism, Christianity, etc (Lyotard, quoted in Storey, 2012)[3]. The commercialization of science, has transformed the purpose of technology from a mean to human liberation into a money making machinery, deprived of any higher guidance but the short term financial revenue to its investors.

This was not the question. And if it was, it is wrong.

We need technology. Given the complexity and severity of climate change, perhaps we need it more than ever. But the technology is a tool. It is a mean to make things better. Its use depends on the purpose we seek and it must be shaped by the priorities we establish.

If on the list of priorities the faster movie download stands above the clean water access, than I am afraid that the technologies that are to come will end up being aimed to restrict billions of people migrating towards the parts of the world with clean water.

If we are to avoid this from happening, when planning the investment into new technologies, the questions that the decision makers should begin with is not:

How much is it worth?

Instead, it must be:

What good purpose will it achieve?

It is an opportunity to move beyond the 3G chain of standards (Good – God- Gold)[4] and make the 5thG mean something more than a Greater revenue.

Access to clean water is a basic human need which, at this stage of human and social evolution, should not be optional anywhere on Earth. Access to internet is a commodity that provides countless benefits, but surviving thirst is not one of them. Securing clean water access in water-stressed areas must be a priority which mobilizes all the technology available, regardless of the financial incentives it may or not secure. Until the clean water supply is guaranteed to all the human population, investing in infrastructures that provides it should be our priority. And if it takes longer time to download a movie, so be it.


[1] Global Digital Report, 2019,

[2] World Health Organization, 2017

[3] Storey, J, 2012, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture an Introduction, Pearson

[4] John Fekete quoted in Storey, J, 2012, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture an Introduction, Pearson

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