CNBC: Zimbabwe is second only to China in terms of the 'youth bulge' in its population, and that's something you talk about a lot in this study—countries where the young have an outsized role in total population.
Best: Italy and Egypt are next to each other in the rankings [No. 78 and No. 79, respectively]. In Italy, you have an aging population, and in Egypt you have a youth bulge, and that is driving the two together in the chart. It shows how important the bulge is.
One thing that I do know—though outside of the context of this study—is that if we look at countries with high insecurity and unrest, mobile phone penetration is not affected. That's astounding, because everything else is affected: economic growth, social development, infrastructure. We know that these networks are somehow immune to social unrest, and even all the way to conflict and warfare.
The 'youth bulge' goes well beyond digital nativism but to the overall demographics of these countries and is present in many low-income countries, in Africa in particular. The bulge is going to play an important role in these countries' development, and that's why it's even more important when we see not only a youth bulge but leadership in Internet presence. That just says to me the future for these countries will be defined in important ways by digital natives.
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CNBC: And Arab Spring would be the prime example of this. But still, how far can societies progress if there is a certain level of income required for greater adoption of personal technology. Isn't there still a chicken-or-egg problem?
Best: So far it's been neither the chicken or egg driving Internet adoption in low-income countries. It's been the profound drop in costs. People don't have to get richer, because the affordability of technology has dropped so considerably, and the business case has risen so dramatically that the infrastructure has been deployed and penetration has spiked.
The big explanation is rise of mobile data. We have seen huge increases in Internet use in terms of compound annual growth rate in low annual growth rates countries because mobile networks have become remarkably robust in these settings.
Some of these countries have seen economic growth and some have not, but overall economic growth doesn't explain the dramatic increase—it's cheaper and easier access.
CNBC: In the U.S., technology has been arguably less politically than economically influential, with the rise of the sharing economy and mobile apps from Silicon Valley disrupting the status quo across industries. Does the rise of the digital native in low-income countries suggest that Silicon Valley's biggest market is in Africa?
Best: What's true is that some of the most ambitious formulations of digital nativism go to deep cognitive changes that would suggest things like a sharing economy. Some of the academic literature on digital natives has included dramatic claims about rewiring of the brain: Internet thinkers who are more "peer to peer sharing" based and meritocratic, less hierarchical. I expect those properties to be maintained even as they grow into adulthood.
This study doesn't speak to that cognitive possibility, nor necessarily what it means to economics. But what it does make clear is that something is happening, and anyone who follows the market possibilities or ramifications better pay attention. Especially in emerging economies leading in Internet access and use.
CNBC: Another debate that defines the technological age is the issue of privacy. Do the digital natives care less about privacy concerns than the headlines would suggest, given their rapid adoption of personal technology?
Best: Personally, I think that digital natives don't feel the importance to the extent the headlines suggest—not as much as people who are not digital natives. They don't recognize the importance, but that very easily could come to haunt them in their future. It could be 'Big Brother' or a future employer looking at past Facebook postings.
I see it among my students, the lack of attention to privacy and willingness to share a lot of personal information. I can't say to what extent the youth don't care about privacy as opposed to not understanding what it is.
—By Eric Rosenbaum, CNBC.com