View Thread > Development and the Internet > Architecture, Question 1 > Inside Out Idealism
First listen to Andrew’s argument regarding the digital divide. (Or read the transcript.)
Then read the ITUs “Istanbul Declaration” from the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2002.
What are your views on the “universal access” debate? Is connecting everyone to the Internet a pressing and immediate priority, especially in developing countries? What are the other legitimate competing concerns that we ought to consider? Are the benefits of achieving universal access worth the costs?
No, the answer is that connecting everyone to the Internet is *not* a pressing and immediate priority. HIV/AIDS, economic development, poverty reduction, gender equality, conflict management and rural development are some of the most pressing priorities in developing countries. In attempting to solve these problems, some people have recognised that enhanced *communication* - rather than just 'access to the Internet' - can do a great deal of good in solving some of these problems because of the simple premise that if more people are engaged in the process of problem solving, a better solution will always be found. Better ways of communicating, including the Internet, offer an excellent opportunity for more people to become involved in the decisions that affect their lives, and *that* is the reason that access is important.
It's also important to recognise that access - because it should always be tied to specific problems or development concerns - is a much more complex issue that giving out computers. Communications technologies should always be seen as a means to making society more equitable and sustainable - these should be the end goals for all projects. Thus, when we look at access figures, we shouldn't just be looking at base figures, we should also look at how, for example, access has improved the lives of women in rural areas, or how access has encouraged more people to become engaged in conflict resolution.
My first rant was going to be along the lines of why on Earth would we need to provide more people with more technology with which to communicate, if we have not yet learnt to communicate EFFECTIVELY with others. In other words, what sense does it make to indulge in the crusade of universal access when most of us have not learned to listen to each other and communicate effecively or with any measure of objectivity. Hence, would we not be providing more miscommunication and worse still misunderstanding, only now on a UNIVERSAL scale and faster than ever before? Maybe.
Alternatively, there is the hope that if enough of us begin communicating, even if horribly, then maybe, just maybe, we will begin to LEARN how to communicate with each other more effectively. Let's hope.
I am not convinced with this question or maybe I just misunderstood it!
>>>> HIV/AIDS, economic development, poverty reduction, gender equality, conflict management and rural development are some of the most pressing priorities in developing countries.<<<<
These problems are best dealt with first through a process of education. Since education is a controlled entity in most of the underdeveloped world, primarily due to limited access (economic or geographic) and political influences over the educational process (i.e. the Islamic schools that operate in Egypt, Syria, Saudia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, et al., where only radical fundamentalistic Islamic views are allowed), it is not reasonable to speak of "enhanced communication" in the terms and manner addressed in your post. Enhanced communications cannot, and will not, occur unless those holding the reins allow it to occur. Complete and universal access to the "information superhighway" eliminates some of the control those in power have over what is "heard" in these developing parts of the world.
>>>> ....of the simple premise that if more people are engaged in the process of problem solving,...<<<<
Here we have to look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs... If my primary problems in life are survival and subsistence, I am not concerned with communal efforts at problem-solving. My only concern regarding communications is getting information that will keep me alive for yet another day, put food on my family's table and keep the various powers-that-be away from my doorstep. A problem-solving modality or model assumes that there is 1) an equal playing field from which problem-solving efforts can be launched and 2) a community system that is cohesive and stable. This exists in very few of the countries in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. Even the "well-to-do" countries have great difficulties with these two issues.
Universal access is empowerin in and of itself. There is a sui generis effect present in merely connecting and sharing with the rest of the world.
>>>> It's also important to recognise that access - because it should always be tied to specific problems or development concerns <<<<
But it is not always connected as you describe. The American system is strictly a business affair. Prior to the decision to allow commerce to be conducted on the Internet, the Internet was a rather hum-drum affair. There were geeks, freaks and eggheads using it, but it wasn't until business came into the mix that it experienced rapid expansion and exponential growth. But this expansion and growth has come with a price. One of the costs is that the primary components of the Internet backbone are now in the hands of telecom and technology companies who have a primary focus of collecting wealth and power. This is why the economic problems of WorldCom, Global Crossing, Covad, Digital (when it was an entity), Adelphia, RCN, 3Com, AT&T, and others were so alarming.
>>>> Communications technologies should always be seen as a means to making society more equitable and sustainable - these should be the end goals for all projects. <<<<<
If that were the case then this would probably be a more equitable world. However, the reality is that many of the business entities tied to the manufacture, use and sale of communication technologies do not have such idealistic intentions, do not have solid developmental plans, and could care less about underdeveloped areas of the world (which is why I am still using a dial-up connection rather than a cable modem or DSL).
>>>> Thus, when we look at access figures, we shouldn't just be looking at base figures, we should also look at how, for example, access has improved the lives of women in rural areas, or how access has encouraged more people to become engaged in conflict resolution. <<<<
And how do you propose we collect such data and information if we cannot freely access the people involved directly? It's a double-edged sword. We cannot measure something to which we ourselves have no (or limited) access. Universal access would enhance our ability to access the "inside" as well as the ability of the "insiders" to access the "outside".