Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nordic Countries Dominate the World in Internet Penetration


Something about that cold weather... 


The number of internet users in the Nordic countries has greatly outpaced the world by comparison. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland - all in the elite echelon. These countries share a common ancestry - the 'Vikings' or the Norse peoples - we've all read about in history classes and seen dramatized in the movies. Honor and battle were highly emphasized; fallen warriors were thought to be sent to Valhalla shared with the Norse gods such as Odin and Thor.


These are Vikings, after all...

Do those aggressive tendencies exist today? Apparently not. Although these countries are as tough as the next guy, most of them attempted to stay neutral during WWII (Norway excepted) to avoid civilian casualties. Today, the Nordic countries are peaceful, yet quite advanced technologically. It's possible that the Viking spirit is alive and well, manifesting itself along the electronic frontier. However, there are many countries that would fit that description (Russia, for example), but have yet to establish the same level of internet penetration as their Nordic counterparts.

Taxation

What else do they have in common? High tax rates, for starters. Perhaps all of that money was used to build the infrastructure to enable this kind of technological leap. While there is some truth to that, there are several other countries with high tax rates that have yet to attain the same levels identified above (Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic and Poland, for example).  How high are the tax rates?  Click here for a list. If you live in the United States, maybe it doesn't seem so high anymore.

Democracy Index

After some intense research, we found a relationship between internet usage and the democracy index. Although democracy has eroded in some countries (like the United States), there is an undeniable link between that and a country's internet usage. How much of a link? We need to dive into a bit of statistics for a brief explanation. There is a measurement called the Coefficient of Determination that can be used to see if there is a link between two variables.  It can range from -1 to 1 such that, either a -1 or 1 fits the data perfectly (negatively or positively) while a 0 indicates no relationship at all.

When we look at this coefficient here (for the statisticians: using linear regression, Pearson method), it computes as 0.41. Which, in basic terms means that 41% of a country's internet penetration can be explained by its democracy index. Evidently, when people aren't repressed, they tend to want technological advancements (not surprise there). Authoritarian regimes, however, do not want their citizens sniffing freedom, so do everything in their power to keep technologies like the internet repressed (and filtered). This can be quickly grasped by viewing the chart below:

Authoritarian regimes aren't good for the internet.

Interestingly, not all countries follow this pattern. What gives?

Culture Club

Some countries have a high democracy index, yet their citizens do not use the internet much by comparison. Obviously, other factors are at play here. The first item that comes to mind is culture. Not everybody cares about being "plugged in." Take Costa Rica, for example: the universal greeting there is something akin to "Pura Vida,", which means "this is living!" In countries such as this, maybe sitting at a computer looks pretty lame when surrounded by lush vegetation and beaches. Conversely, the internet would provide a welcome relief from the dark and depressing winter of the Nordic countries.

Growing Pains

Another reason that some high-democracy, low-internet countries exist may be because they have only recently began to experience gains in technology. Consider Botswana who gained independence from Britain in 1966. Given that they were extremely poor when they gained their freedom, it will take a significant amount of time before the necessary framework can be installed to allow for sophisticated technologies such as the internet to thrive. That being said, this is a country to watch along this sector. They could become Africa's leaders sooner rather than later given their high democracy rating.

Conclusion

When considering a worldwide phenomenon such as internet penetration, many variables exist to explain it. Occasionally, a significant factor can be found through research; in this case, it is the democracy index. It certainly seems that although freedom bears many fruits, one particularly tasty treat exists in the form of technological advancement. While other factors such as culture and history must also be considered, one cannot deny that a link exists here as explained above. The Nordic countries certainly have led the internet charge into the 21st century. For other countries considering advances in the same area, it would be prudent for them to study this region.



Questions:
1) Will the world become more or less free as time marches on?
2) How long before the 'democratized' countries have 100% internet penetration?
3) Will we ever see a time when there are no authoritarian regimes?

Data:

Code:
These graphs were generated using the 'ggplot2' package within the R programming language:

1st graph:
ggplot(subset(gdp.melt.frame, Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"), 
        aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value)) +
 geom_boxplot() +
 geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Denmark" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Denmark")) +
 geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Finland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Finland")) +
 geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Iceland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Iceland")) +
 geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Norway" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Norway")) +
 geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Sweden" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Sweden")) +
 geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "United States" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="United States")) +
  
 geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Denmark" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Denmark", group=1), size=1.1) +
 geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Finland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Finland", group=1), size=1.1) +
 geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Iceland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Iceland", group=1), size=1.1) +
 geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Norway" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Norway", group=1), size=1.1) +
 geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Sweden" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Sweden", group=1), size=1.1) +
 geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "United States" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),
  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="United States", group=1), size=1.1) +
  
 ylab("Internet Users (per 100 people)") +
 xlab("Year") +
  
 opts(title="Nordic Countries Growth of Internet Users",
   legend.title = theme_blank(),
   panel.background = theme_blank()


2nd graph:

ggplot(subset(gdp.melt.frame, Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)" & variable == "X2010"), aes(x=Index, y=value, label=Country.Name)) +
  geom_point(size=0.5, colour='dark grey') +
  geom_smooth(size=1.1, method="lm", na.rm=FALSE) +
  geom_text(size=2.5, angle=0, colour='black', hjust=.5) +

  ylab("Internet Users (per 100 people)") +
  xlab("Democracy Index") +

  opts(title="2010 Internet Penetration by Democracy Index",
    legend.title = theme_blank(),
    panel.background = theme_blank()) 



Further Reading (the following all have at least 3 stars or are unrated):

8 comments:

  1. Interesting!

    I was hoping you would comment on the possibility that internet penetration causes an increase in the democracy index (e.g. Arab Spring).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be an interesting take. Perhaps in a few years we'll see a rise in the democracy index due to the Arab Spring you mention. Definitely something to monitor.

      Delete
  2. Well done Patrick! How unique it is to see the interconnection of dots into causal relationships. Also impressed with your historical metaphoric analysis. Did appreciate the overall linkage between democracy and internet development...where in the Nordic countries taxes return to the people by way of infrastructural public development, (not so here). Also found your linkage between the former colonized Botswana although liberated from Britain in 1966 did suffer from underdevelopment inspite of its democatic system. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the kinds words. I hope to write more articles that highlight previously unknown links. Takes a lot of research, but the result is generally worth the effort.

      Delete
  3. For Questions 2 This is article that pertains to Singapore & Maylasia... it speaks about public internet access.. It is not exactly related to the subject but still a good read.. http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/APCITY/UNPAN026244.pdf

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting. One point in particular the author made was internet use as a way for 'anti-establishment' groups to communicate in countries where freedom was oppressed. Apparently they feel safe doing so. As another reader pointed out, this would explain the "Arab Spring" we've all seen recently.

      Delete
  4. For Questions 3 This working paper was written by 2 students at the The Helen Kellogg Insitute for International Studies. It spans from 1972 to 2003 speaking on Authoritarian Regimes vs Democratic Regimes in 191 countries. Regimes or Democracies are needed to rule the world.. There would be civil disobedience otherwise. The would be one big span of chaos and destruction.

    This second article talks about the internet has changed the political landscapes of all countries. It is a very good read..
    http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2011/02/abrupt-change-of-authoritarian-regimes-becker.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, good read. It is my sincere hope to see authoritarian regimes eventually die out. In today's world, they aren't needed (in my opinion, of course). On the flip side, the gradual erosion of U.S. civil liberties has to stop. A free country that is losing its freedom? Crazy, that.

      Delete

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