Digital Poverty

Last week I had the very great privilege and pleasure to visit China. Its been many years since I was there last and I saw a huge change in the country. I landed in Shanghai, the most populated city on earth with more than 24 million residents.

I don’t know about you, perhaps it’s a consequence of being British, but every time I travel somewhere I always look for signs of; wealth, prosperity and organization. Over the years I have developed my own personal quick key indicators; the state of the roads for governmental wealth and organization and the state of the cars on them for individual wealth. Needless to say, the road from the airport to the city was as smooth as a billiard table and I’ve never seen such a continuous stream of luxury cars before. I know it’s not a scientific measurement of anything, but, as we all must, I am trying to occupy myself during the journey.

As we were zooming along, I noticed the odd flash of light from the overhead gantries. My first thought was, “oh-oh speed cameras”, but no one appeared to be going all that fast. After witnessing several more flashes at cars that evidently weren’t speeding I asked the driver what was going on? He told me that the local authorities had introduced a scheme to reduce pollution and congestion by limiting car usage based on registration. Nothing new there I thought, I’ve heard of that before. He continued on to explain that your Social Credits could also be deducted for parking inconsiderately or jay-walking, or smoking in a no smoking area, or numerous other minor anti-social acts.

Social Credits? What’s a Social Credit?

“The government are trying to make us all good citizens by giving us a social credit rating like a financial credit rating. The better your behavior, the higher your social credit.” I sat and thought of the moral implications of this for a while. Who is to say what constitutes good behavior? His analogy between social credits and credit rating nagged at me. Who decides what is good behavior; be it social or financial?

Well, apparently anyone.

Can it cause hardship? Yes, just ask anyone who must pay more for a loan or can’t get one at all.

I asked what the penalties are for a low social credit rating? “Oh, the government can do a few things; stop you from travelling business class or staying in luxury hotels or, worst of all, throttle your Internet broadband”. I’d never thought of Internet broadband as a form of currency before and his assertion that throttling it was a severe punishment quite tickled me. I began to think if Social Credits would work back home?

Hmm… no. Well at least the broadband throttling wouldn’t work simply because you can’t fine the poor and we are digitally poor in the UK. Compared to China, most of us live in digital poverty. My mind wandered to relief parcels from China filled with ones and naughts…

Forrest Gump said, “In the land of China, people hardly got nothing at all.” That might have been true in your day Forrest but now we are the poor ones… well, at least digitally speaking.

DOC October 2018