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The Tau Index & Revolution: Who's Next? (Update)

Egypt & Tunisia Were On the List. There are Some Others That Pop Up, Too

In Cairo, fear and trepidation of Facebook and Twitter ran high enough to prompt the government to flip a Liebermanesque Internet kill switch.

But perhaps it's not these two sites in particular as much as IT in general that's causing the problem for the world's dictators. And perhaps it is those countries that have tried to have things both ways--encouraging economic freedom while controlling political freedom--that are most prone to disruption, even revolution, today.

Disruptive Stuff
Countries that have moved from state planning to more open markets have experienced widespread disruption as the inequalities of capitalism announce themselves. When a country moving toward economic liberalization doesn't liberalize its press and political freedoms in the process, oppressed anger often builds to dangerous levels.

Add to this the notion that IT is disruptive, even revolutionary, and you can be crafting a toxic brew.

Through Internet connectivity, small computers, smart phones, and a universe of free websites, people in all corners of the world can communicate in ways that were simply not possible even a few years ago, and with opinions that will invariably run afoul of an oppressive, controlling government.

IT disruption cannot be measured accurately simply by looking at pure investment levels. In fact, the wealthier, more equitable, more stable nations of the world also invest the most on IT on a per-person (per capita) basis: Switzerland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands are the world's top five..

The next five are Hong Kong, Finland, Denmark, the UAE, and the UK. After that come Japan and Canada. All have internal problems, pressures, and loudmouths, of course, but none seem ripe for revolution.

Where, on the other hand, are the places that are truly dynamic-truly kinetic-in their level of commitment to IT? Which countries may be most prone to truly disruptive IT?

This was my question when I created the Tau Index a few months ago, in which I factored income inequity and local cost-of-living into per capita IT spending. Doing this created a Top 25 list that was far different from the simple Top 25 per capita list.

There were only two countries in the Top 25 of both lists: the Czech Republic and South Korea. And whereas most of the world's Top 25 IT spenders per capita are located in North America and Western Europe (plus Japan), most members of the Tau Index were located in Southern Asia, Eastern Europe, and Northern Africa.

There are some combustible places on this list. So given the revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt--both of which are on the Tau Index Top 25--it occurred to me to examine an extra dimension, one that measures government oppression.

For now, I've settled on the Press Freedom Index (PFI), published annually by Reporters Without Borders. Although some places rate poorly due to a general climate of fear and lawlessness rather than government oppression-the Philippines, a Tau Index Top 25 country, is the classic example-we can generally connect the dots between a poor PFI ranking and a nasty government.

I then connected the dots between high Tau Index ratings and poor PFI rankings-between the most kinetic (ie,disruptive) IT environments and the most restrictive media environments.

Doing so resulted in a list that, not surprisingly, includes Egypt and Tunisia. Integrating their Tau Index rating with their Press Freedom Index rating puts them in a red zone of sorts that, in retrospect, may have been a good indicator that revolution was ripe.

Who's Next?
The big question then becomes, if this connection is meaningful, who's next? By this, I don't mean who's next for ethnic or religious unrest, but rather, what governments are most likely to have a full-scale revolution on their hands soon?

Revolutionary talk is dangerous talk, and words do have consequences. Certainly, we all should abhor violence and the incitement thereof. But my numbers show the following candidates:

* Vietnam. The country has emerged as Asia's latest "It Girl" for investment. But IT is growing at a rate here that's disruptive, its 90 million people bring a lot of population pressure, and the iron-fisted Communist government has done nothing to ease political or media control.

Let's not forget Frances FitzGerald's book, "Fire in the Lake," in which she described the Asian, I Ching idea of an oppositional state that's ready to flare, unbeknownst to our more literal Western minds.

Note to the US government: whatever happens here, DON'T intervene.

* Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. No-brainers. Even the CIA is probably on top of the situations here.

* Libya. I don't have official IT spend figures for this country, so it doesn't appear in my official list. But my understanding is that the country is being aggressive. And press freedom there is abysmal.

* Thailand. On the surface, a succesful emerging "Asian Tiger." But this country almost tore itself in two last year through class-based conflict. Once the king dies, look out.

* Malaysia. This came as a surprise to me, and I doubt the place is ripe for revolution. My numbers don't tell the whole story here. Its abysmal press index stems from the nagging ethnic toothache among Malay and Chinese.

But the country doesn't face the population pressures of Vietnam, has already gone through the early states of development, and is on its way to becoming the South Korea of the next decade.

* Honduras. There's been very aggressive IT adoption here, and therefore a lot of disruption, without addressing income equality or liberalizing the media. The presidential charade of 2009 was no accident. This place remains a tinderbox.

* Morocco and Ukraine. On the bubble with my numbers. Certainly, the Moroccan government is nervous given Tunisia and Egypt. Ukraine is another place that almost split itself in two, a few years ago. It's the number two IT deployer in the world, according to the Tau Index, but has press freedoms similar to those of Russia and lower of those of Eqypt.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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