The Internet has drastically changed the daily lives of countless people around the world. It is not uncommon to walk down the street, or down the aisle of the grocery store, and see people accessing this treasure trove of the world’s combined knowledge. Even more impressive is that this knowledge is being accessed continuously from handheld devices which people carry around in their pockets. We take such behavior for granted today, and many teenagers in high school cannot remember a time when having constant, high-speed access to the World Wide Web was not the norm. For some families, losing Internet access in their home is akin to losing electricity or running water—it is more than a minor setback. So imagine how primitive it must seem in areas and even entire countries where Internet access is rare or non-existent. These primitive places may soon have the opportunity to catch up to the rest of the world thanks to the social media company which many people love to hate: Facebook.
The idea is that solar-powered drones can be used to make Internet connectivity possible for consumers in places where such access was previously unavailable. Through a Facebook-funded nonprofit group, Internet.org, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced this idea to the tech world at a conference in San Francisco, California, on 26 March 2015. Using solar-powered drones which weigh less than a car but have a wingspan greater than that of a Boeing 737, new Internet connectivity could give better opportunities for education and make information (such as employment opportunities) readily available in places like the African continent, where only 16% of residents currently have access.
Facebook has always had its detractors, and Mark Zuckerberg is certainly not being given the benefit of the doubt in this seemingly altruistic endeavor. Some preservationists fear that connectivity to the Internet will destroy the few primitive cultures which have been untouched by modern innovations. Privacy concerns, cyber bullying, and the emotional challenges now associated with the prevalence of social media are among the many criticisms which have previously been leveled at Facebook and its founder. These concerns are no doubt relevant as Facebook seeks to expand global access to the Internet and thus its global penetration. Finally, while improving the lives of the less fortunate through access to the Internet sounds like a noble and selfless endeavor, Facebook is a company which—like most companies whose innovations have changed the world—will no doubt exploit every angle of this opportunity to increase its bottom line. The reality is that communities in impoverished areas may also greatly benefit in the process.
We’ve settled the Wild West, walked on the moon, and explored the depths of the ocean. The transcontinental railroad brought civilization and progress to the uncivilized, and the invention of the airplane has made travelling across the world an inconvenience rather than an impossibility. Like mail service, the telegraph, and the telephone did to a lesser extent before it, the Internet crosses political, cultural, and socio-economic boundaries and connects people at the far corners of the civilized world to create a global community. The Internet is still a Wild West of verified and unverified information, an ocean of unexplored ideas, and an outer space of new and exciting possibilities. Facebook, through the use of solar-powered drones, is poised to conclude the settlement of this final frontier.