Trickle-Down Technology

In discussions about international communication, I often hear the argument that neither this “blogging” thing in specific nor the internet in general are not on the radar in places like Africa, where they “don’t even have phones, much less internet access” (or so goes the myth). The people who expound on this sort of angle have not been to an internet café in places like Essaouria or read of the bilingual Tanzanian bloggers. (Yes, there are bloggers in Tanzania. Heck, there are politicians blogging in Tanzania. Still think this is in the early adopter stage?)

I jump ahead in my thinking, and argue that the biggest problem is not whether there is any access at all, but WHO has access and how that shapes the opinions of the influentials who are savvy enough to be doing the reading and writing on the Western side in this medium.

This is the problem I point out in the Venezuelan blogosphere: if there are Chavista bloggers, they’re not writing in English, and find themselves ignored by the American elites.

The problem is not “how do we give the elites of an information-impoverished nation access to publication tools;” the problem is “how do we get the impoverished population of an information-impoverished nation access to information, and then give them the means to inform us?”

Is there a trickle-down effect to the means of production of media? I seriously doubt it – although we do see, historically, individual printing presses recycled by new users (think early San Francisco newspapers). Is the same effect at work with computers? Hand-me-downs and the recently-rioted-over iBooks passed along to local citizens by the school system come to mind.

Every local non-profit (I’m thinking YMCA, YWCA type organizations) should/could be offering low-cost recycled computers to their membership along with free dial-up internet access. Heh, put that one on the wish list, get a corporate sponsor and hire a couple of great geeks (uh, maybe they’ll work part-time and not want to be paid much?) to work the machinery over. The school system could be a place for this idea, too. I know I’m choosing the smoothest, slickest, most well-oiled bureaucracies to take on the task.

Okay – so some of this is material for international concerns, and some of it is more of a local technology access problem, but solutions should scale to international aid organizations in the same manner. Sort of. Shouldn’t it?

[tags]digital divide[/tags]