Last month The Calvert Journal published an article on the Meduza Project, a new Russian media outlet based in Riga formed as a response to a crackdown by the Russian government on independent reporting. What caught my attention about Meduza was how its co-founder Ivan Kolapkov describes their methodology for creating and curating news. It is something he calls the ‘information living wage’.
Global Voices Online translates a description from Russian:
“All that’s important is quality and accuracy. As such, the idea is to seek out and find “must reads” on the Russian Internet: news and texts, without which it would be impossible to understand what’s happening today in Russia and in the world…This is limited to the very best texts: the exclusives, investigations, analysis, and reports tied to the day’s news; the text-events that shape the news itself; and any outstanding journalism. Have a look at Meduza and you’ll know what everybody is talking about, without missing a thing.”
We know that most information on the Web is aggregated based on what is most popular or most shared – but what information is considered essential to maintain a decent standard of living?
If we make a generalisation, an ‘information living wage’ should allow someone to:
- Participate in society (i.e. utilities, law, voting)
- Understand how their world is being shaped (i.e. local and global news)
- Better the quality of their lives (i.e. health, education, employment, community, finance)
Estonia has progressed this several notches above the bare necessity (“Estonians Embrace Life in a Digital World”, New York Times, 8 October 2014) as residents have access to approximately 4,000 services online, and can review medical records, file their taxes and vote through the Web – but it gives you an idea of how digitally progressive society can become.
A digital divide reflects an economic divide. In the future, will human beings have the right to access a minimum of information online? What will that ‘information living wage’ be and who will determine that?
Who will pay for accessibility? Data is not free, though admittedly in the developed world we subconsciously treat internet access as a right (“what, no internet?!”); like something floating about in the ether ready to be tapped at any moment.
In October 2013, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) released the cost of mobile broadband across the world. The Economist created an interactive map using that data that allows you to check out the cost of “pre-paid handset-based subscription with 500 megabytes of data per month”. Angola lists as $110.60. India, $8.10. There are some discrepancies that have been argued, but it gives you an idea of how far we are from enabling access to information, especially when you think of the costs in relation to Gross National Income.
In addition to being able to afford data, we also have to think about literacy and comprehension skills – and not to mention really good UX design. But aside from those less than minor hurdles…