Informaticiens sans frontieres
On the other hand, considering the complexity of the technology and the time and money involved in the deployment of the technology, it is highly desirable for economic development practitioners and policy makers to review various aspects of broadband technology deployment in these communities.
To make development sustainable, we have to give people a voice and then help them to make that voice heard.
It’s our responsibility to steer the course for our industry.
Take any group of people from any developing country - demonstrate how the Internet can bring the world to their fingertips, make online computers available to them, and watch what happens.
Cynics will question if online shopping, anonymous access to pornography or computer gaming (the big 3 western uses) are worth all the fundraising to bring the Internet to everyone, but one has to pay attention to the obvious positive evidence.
Developers are finally starting to think about open source differently.
Internet access, software and hardware are all big, profitable businesses that will charge what a market can bear – and if it can't bear much, the businesses will go somewhere else. We know that.
But from day one, the Internet has been pioneered by hackers and crackers (let's called them mission-driven volunteers) who continue to pursue a course parallel to the commercial exploitation of cyberspace through the free software or ‘Open Source’ movement.
It costs a huge amount of money to operate off a Windows or Mac platform; it costs nothing to use Linux.
Source codes - standardized and shared - allow all sorts of innovative software can be developed and re-circulated to anyone who can use it.
Finally, the Open Source movement is turning into a sorta 'Informaticiens sans frontières' - this is good but more need to get onboard.
The term ‘Information Society’ has been coined to refer to communities in which there is ready access to information and knowledge, leading to sustainable and equitable opportunities for growth and progress.
In an Information Society, there is free flow of two-way communication between governments and their people and among the people themselves.
It’s not happening.
In this fictional society, everyone is informed of current affairs, especially those affecting them directly; and everyone has the ability to make his or her voice heard. That means that everyone has a say in shaping socio-economic plans and strategies of national relevance.
Some people even profess to say that we have achieved this ... but there is a thorn in this argument - the media. What do the media have to do with such our brand new Information Society?
Without exaggeration, pretty well everything.
In an Information Society, communication HAS to reach the masses. It has to seep down to the grass-roots level – to fishing villages by the sea, hamlets on mountainsides and even to remote nomadic settlements wherever they may exist.
But Web 2.0 is pushing the one-way transfer - us to them. That's wrong.
Community needs and aspirations, culture and values, indigenous wisdom and experience have to filter up to policy makers and other stakeholders in order for communication to truly improve people’s quality of life.
The most cost-effective way of achieving such widespread communication is through the mass media and especially the radio. As I have said before - the internet of developing nations IS radio.
Of all forms of media – both traditional and new – radio has by far the most pervasive reach. People living in rural areas in many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, depend heavily on the radio to connect them to the bigger world ‘outside’.
The potential of newer forms of media – such as the Internet – in non-urban areas is also there. However, these forms of media have not as yet made their way to a large enough area beyond major towns and cities to have significant mass impact.
The concentration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban enclaves, as we all know, has led to the digital divide which neatly splices the world into its haves and have-nots.
Another typical side-effect of Web 2.0.
Once again, given the proper incentives (money, naturally), traditional mass media can make a difference.
Radio, television and newspaper journalists can make a bigger effort to educate those on ‘the other’ side of the digital divide about ICTs and how they can be used to improve standards and quality of living in up-to-now neglected areas.
There is as yet very little reporting on ICTs and their long-term potential and consequences in the traditional media. Yes, superficial news on the launch of an updated version of some hot technology will make the pages of newspapers, but in-depth, analytical and thought-provoking pieces on the impact of ICTs on development do not often appear.
Why is that?
As a purveyor of information and change, the mass media has a duty to shine the spotlight on this potent tool and agent for global change.
However, ICTs on their own are not enough.
ICTs depend, for the time being anyway, on the mass media to create greater awareness of the potential benefits that can be derived from it.
There are admittedly certain challenges that the mass media has to overcome if it is to fulfill its grass-roots duty. Over the last decade and a half, western media around the world has grown in number and acquired greater freedom with regard to content. In developing nations, mass media is owned by national governments.
Financial independence of the media is a positive move towards liberalization BUT this also means greater reliance on advertising which has tended to concentrate media houses in urban areas where there is an obligation to cater to urbanites’ demands. In terms of radio, this has resulted in higher entertainment content and ‘hip’ programs imported from developed nations.
Mass media - radio stations in particular - needs to break from the commercial groove and focus more intensely on rural folk as well as other marginalized groups. The ultimate aim is to create what has been termed ‘media pluralism’, namely media that reflects the needs of all members of society, and especially those whose voices have till now been ignored.
We should all do our part to help media pluralism materialize by pushing for policies and regulatory frame-works that will facilitate free, plural and inclusive media.
We also need to become involved. Make decisions. Act.
Get off the Web 2.0 bandwagon that Reilly is pushing - listen to the heart! (Wow - a bit sappy but hey, give it a try)
Support locally produced content created by local people – become your own version of an 'Informaticiens sans frontières'.
Be a mentor.
Be a volunteer.
Give your knowledge away to benefit someone.