At the High Level panel “Digital Cooperation: Action Today for Future Generations” at the United Nations General Assembly, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was asked how the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped his thinking on expanding connectivity.
Here’s what he said.
Every year since I invented the web, its importance in people’s lives has grown, but at the same time the disenfranchisement of those who can’t connect has grown too. Covid-19 has supercharged this process. The web is a lifeline in this crisis and yet it is a lifeline denied to billions just when they need it most.
We need to face this turmoil with a renewed effort to remake the world for the better. It is time to accelerate the building of a world where everyone — especially young women and girls — can access a safe and empowering web.
And we must be realistic about this. The web is often not safe or empowering. So as we widen access we must also deliver a better web.
All of us here are digital citizens and all have a duty to create the web we want. That means behaving well and building strong online communities — but it also means fighting against online abuse, pushing back on misinformation and disinformation, and campaigning for the rights of everyone to use the web.
I believe young people hold the key to the change we strive for, and I applaud therefore the UN’s focus on youth.
Last century there was a huge global push to educate. In 1970, primary school enrollment was a bit over 70%. Today it is at 90%. This progress has changed billions of lives.
This century we must lead a global push to connect everyone, and make sure all children have access to the internet’s transformational benefits.
During this pandemic, children with meaningful access to the internet have been better able to continue learning while schools are closed. But a recent report from UNICEF found at least ⅓ of the world’s children don’t have the technology they need to access remote learning. Their lack of access to the internet is undermining their futures.
This is a powerful example of the way web access is a prerequisite for many of the Sustainable Development Goals — from supporting education and reducing inequalities, driving economic growth and to boosting health outcomes.
This week we sent a joint letter to His Excellency Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly, emphasizing that digital technology increasingly underpins access to nearly all essential services, including food, water, energy, and healthcare, as well as critical pillars of government and democracy.
We called on him to lead governments in a global statement committing to work for a digital future that is safe, empowering and inclusive. I add to that message a call on governments and companies to endorse the Contract for the Web, which I launched last year, as a clear action plan which can lead us to this goal. It’s more than just connectivity.
Like the leaders who accelerated access to education last century, we can leave a legacy of progress, by connecting all of the world and fighting tirelessly for a better web for everyone.
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