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12.5: Affordability

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    More people than ever before are partaking in commerce and communications thanks to digitisation lowering the barrier to entry. The traditional lengthy logistics chain to move products adds more cost. At each step along the chain the handling party requires a fee, which will be passed on to the customer by increasing the price of the product. By shortening the logistics chain and cutting out middlemen, manufacturers make cost savings. Although the cost of producing a product might stay the same, savings can be made when it comes to distributing, selling and marketing the product. These savings can be passed on to customers in the form of a lower price, with the manufacturer maintaining the same profit margin. This lower price can potentially attract customers who were previously barred by high prices. The digitisation of commerce can thus open up markets by making products more affordable.

    The digital communications chain has been shortened in similar ways, with the same sort of cost benefits. However, the monetary cost of communications was never really high enough to pose a barrier to entry. The benefits of the digitisation of communications are not primarily price, but rather the lowering of the skills required to partake. Communicating via letters as outlined above requires the ability to both read and write. Until the spread of mass education in the twentieth century, these skills were limited to a relatively small subset of humanity. Now, since literacy levels are high in most developed states, digital communications have the power to make a difference for people with learning difficulties or in areas where education is limited. Courtesy of video messaging applications, real-time long-distance correspondence can be achieved via face-to-face communication. This bypasses any need to be able to read and write, requiring only the interpersonal communication skills every person has. It does of course require a device, such as a laptop or smartphone, on which to run the application. However, devices are becoming cheaper, and a single device can be shared and passed around. Shared ownership not only spreads the initial cost of purchasing the device, but is in itself a means for people to connect with one another. The ability of a family to gather around a laptop and video call with relatives on the other side of the world is a powerful way to maintain relationships otherwise challenged by distance and time.

    Those previously separated by geographical distance and/or access to means of communication are now able to reconnect with lost acquaintances and even forge relationships with strangers on the other side of the globe. In this way, digital communications have the potential to increase humanity’s homogeneity. If everyone is connected, divisions between locations, races, nationalities, classes and wealth can be blurred. Rather than emphasise the things that have traditionally separated humanity, it is possible to concentrate on those things that unite us: the shared values that make us human.

    12.5: Affordability is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephen McGlinchey, Rosie WAters & Christian Scheinpflug.

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