"The massive diffusion of powerful, cheap computing power via cellphones and tablets over the last decade has dramatically lowered the costs of connectivity and education — so much so that many more people in India, China and Egypt, even though they’re still just earning a few dollars a day, now have access to the kind of technologies and learning previously associated solely with the middle class.
That’s why India today has a 300-million-person middle class and another 300-million-person virtual middle class, who, though still very poor, are increasingly demanding the rights, roads, electricity, uncorrupted police and good governance normally associated with rising middle classes."
Ah, yes, the masses might be starving, diseased and clad in rags, but access to the Internet makes them "virtual" middle class. It's a bit like Friedman's virtual chin: You can still see a picture of it on the Internet in the picture accompanying his op-ed (true, his clasped hands make it a bit difficult to discern), but the reality is that age and good eating have long since obscured this feature.
But what the heck! Let's "Photoshop" all of India's poor and transform them into "virtual" maharajas in the Taj Mahal. Can you imagine - poverty cured overnight!
Why stop with India? As Friedman concludes in his opinion piece:
"And, of course, the Arab Awakening was triggered, not by middle-class college students, but by an aspiring-to-be-in-the-middle-class Tunisian vegetable seller who was abused by corrupt police. Leaders beware: Your people don’t need to be in the middle class anymore, in economic terms, to have the education, tools and mind-set of the middle class — to feel entitled to a two-way conversation and to be treated like citizens with real rights and decent governance."
Indeed, I almost forgot the Arab Spring, which has become an endless winter of slaughter and intolerance. Let's take Internet access to impoverished Egyptian villages and put a virtual end to honor killings, child brides, female genital mutilation, illiteracy, hatred of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, abhorrence of Jews, and expectations that anyone leaving Islam should be put to death. We can create a virtual Garden of Eden!
Sorry, that's probably enough cynicism. Time to take Arnold, our 150-pound Anatolian Mountain Dog, for a virtual walk. The problem, however, with a virtual walk is the nasty reality to be found on the floor come morning.
You see, even the Internet and connectivity have their limitations. However, I often wonder, given Friedman's enthusiasm for the Internet, why he doesn't conduct his overseas interviews online, thus saving his near bankrupt newspaper hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses each year and sparing the environment. Go figure.