Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Of Facebook and Twitter…

During the opening of the most recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono among others highlighted that Indonesia is “the world’s second largest Facebook nation and third largest for Twitter”. This was not the first time that President Yudhoyono alluded to these statistics as an indicator of the Indonesian society’s growing familiarity with modern technology. In fact, a while ago, the President was jeered at by a number of media pundits for taking too much pride at these statistics.

I don’t normally side with the media, but I do see a point about not taking too much pride at the number of Indonesians having Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, we can be happy about these statistics. But there have to be some reservations. I say this because if we are not careful, than we may fall into the trap of over-assessing Indonesia’s information and communication technology (ICT) conditions. We may make the mistake of assuming ourselves as better than we actually are.

We must look at other indicators in order to have a greater picture of ICT development in Indonesia. This is important when considering that many have documented the positive impact of ICT diffusion on an economy’s GDP. Some went as far as estimating that a 10% increase in mobile phone penetration could be associated with a 1% growth in GDP.

In 2010, Pew Research Center surveyed over 1.000 people from all over Indonesia as part of its study on the global development of ICT. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of people surveyed who used mobile phones went up from 8% to 46%. This is a drastic jump in numbers; something that should be welcomed, as an indication of economic progress. However, when compared
to the median percentage (81%), Indonesia’s numbers remain lower

On social networking, only 6% of the people surveyed responded “yes” when asked whether or not they use online social networking sites. Moreover, only 9% said that they have access to the internet. Of the 20 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center, social networking is least prevalent in Indonesia and Pakistan (3%), places where the penetration of internet usage remains very low.

Although Indonesia appears to be making certain gains, the statistics proposed by Pew Research Center are indeed sobering. However, to only take account of this survey’s results would be inconclusive. Left, right and center, we are seeing Indonesians become more familiar with technology. How can we explain this then?

According to the Global Informati
on Technology Report 2010-2011 developed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Indonesia leaped 14 places (from 67th in 2010 to 53rd in 2011) on the Network Readiness Index (NRI). In 2009, Indonesia was ranked 83rd.

In the Asia-Pacific, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and China are better than Indonesia. However, Indonesia outranked a number of emerging economies including Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Ru
ssia. For the second year in a row, Singapore ranked 2nd overall behind champion Sweden.

ICT readiness remains Indonesia’s strength, with individual readiness ranking a very high 18th spot. This provides strong indications regarding the potential growth of ICT among the Indonesian society. Of course, the individuals’ readiness must also be complemented by readiness among businesses and the government. For the moment, this remains lacking.

Not only that, ICT penetration and usage throughout the entire nation remains low (ranked 80th place). As well, the environment for ICT growth still needs work on. We are looking at the need for greater support from infrastructure development, policy and regulations, as well as stronger markets for ICT. All in all, going forward, the Indonesian government should work hard to promote ICT penetration and usage as well as prioritize ICT in its development agenda.

The statistics proposed by Pew Research Center and WEF reports gave a more comprehensive look at the present conditions of Indonesia’s ICT development. Indeed, the reports suggest that the people may be ready. And why shouldn’t we believe this, when we know that Indonesia is home to the second largest Facebook and third largest Twitter nations. However, readiness is not everything; it must be complemented with a more conducive environment for further ICT development.

The growth of ICT awareness in Jakarta and a few big cities in Indonesia should not immediately be translated as greater overall conditions across the nation. To say that Indonesia is advanced because many urbanites are familiar with some of the world’s most popular social networking sites would be a fallacy.

Although the rate of urbanization is increasing fast, most Indonesians live in rural areas. Most are untouched by the progress of Indonesia’s modernity. And most remain beyond the loop of the global ICT advancement. We have certain ways to go.

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