World’s Best Internet Nation? Denmark! Hmm…

British magazine The Economist has conducted a study of 64 countries’ overall ability to use the Internet to their advantage. And hey, Denmark won by a nose. In front of the other scandinavian countries: Sweden, Norway and Finland. USA placed sixth. [Source: Danish Computerworld Online, April 19, 2004]

The article mentions a bunch of dimensions considered including number of Internet connections, the public administration’s use of the Internet (including such things as portal services to private enterprises) and the political visions concerning Internet use. These are the dimensions where the Scandinavian countries score high, whereas the US wins in the dimension of the “citizens’ social and cultural relationship with the Internet” (my bad translation of Computerworld’s bad translation)

Here’s why the Scandinavian countries could dominate so, and why the US never had a chance in this study:

Several of the dimensions are concerned with a nation’s Internet-based support of private enterprise, service to citizens, etc. These dimensions are quite easy for the Scandinavian countries to do well, because 1) The Scandinavian countries have small populations (Sweden is the most populous with 8 million) and 2) Individually, the Scandinavian societies are already very well-ordered and well-governed with a powerful central state government that has a handle on everything: Universal health care, free education, no need to “register” in order to vote, etc. – these are small, well-ordered societies that have it together – and has had so for many decades. Of course they have a relatively easy time planning and implementing nation-wide information systems.

In comparison, the US has, what, 250 million citizens (plus milions of non-citizens) and administering this society is a constant battle between the centralized government and 50 individual states with their own economies (to some extent), political system, laws, courts, etc. A nation-wide IT project in the US has little chance of having the same impact in the US society as such projects have in the Scandinavian countries.

It’s my guess that many Americans will still see themselves as winners in this study. “So what,” they’ll say, “if the government doesn’t reach everyone through the Internet, we don’t want ‘big government’ anyway, and the study shows that we are better at using the Internet for our own needs.

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