[Air-L] help on africa and computer donations

Charles Ess cmess at drury.edu
Mon Aug 27 21:35:56 PDT 2007

In my view, this student is on the right track - but still short of a series
of additional questions that I believe need to be taken into consideration.

As briefly as I can: because these technologies embed and foster the
cultural values and communicative preferences of their designers - whatever
the good intentions of such projects, they run the very real risk of serving
as a form of computer-mediated colonization.
This colonization is all the more insidious because it is more subtle than
gunboats or even smallpox-infected blankets - but the format is the same: a
form of cultural imperialism towards "the Other" issuing from a naïve
ethnocentrism that presumes that "our" ways of doing things, including
communicating and the technologies that support communication, are
universal.  Those who do things differently are simply wrong, primitive,
etc., and must simply learn to do things our way.
Worst-case scenario: "wiring the world" in the name of democracy, freedom of
expression, economic development, etc. becomes simply a high-tech way of
obliterating the differences that define individual and cultural identity.

The literature affiliated with the CATaC (Cultural Attitudes Towards
Technology and Communication) conferences is chock-full of case-studies from
around the world that demonstrate
(a) many such projects fail - and sometimes fail disastrously - because
designers and sponsors, to put it bluntly, are clueless about the cultural
dimensions of what they're up to.  This happens in spectacular ways with
projects oriented towards indigenous peoples, for example (the South African
Learning Centres are a primary example) - but similar results often crop up
when crossing into Confucian-shaped societies in particular and more
communitarian-oriented societies in general. (Crudely, ICTs have a built-in
bias towards the individual - a bias that can foster behavior contrary to
the prevailing cultural norms in such societies.)
(b) such projects can succeed marvelously - but only by taking into account
the cultural and communicative dimensions at work "from the ground up,"
i.e., by design and implementation processes that start with the clearest
possible understanding of the cultural values and communicative preferences
of the peoples, organizations, etc., to be involved.

The literature here is extensive - much of it online, e.g. in special issues
of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, as well as in more
traditional print-based journals and a few books:

Emma Rooksby & John Weckert (eds.) 2007. Information Technology and Social
Justice. Hershey, PA: Idea Publishing

Sri Kurniawan & Panayiotis Zaphiris (eds.). 2007. Advances in Universal Web
Design and Evaluation

Laurel Evelyn Dyson, Max Hendriks & Stephen Grant (eds.) 2007. Information
Technology and Indigenous People. Hershey, PA: Information Science

C. Ess, Akira Kawabata, and Hiroyuki Kurosaki (eds.), "Cross-Cultural
Perspectives on Religion and Computer-Mediated Communication," Journal of
Computer-Mediated Communication 12 (3), April, 2007.

C. Ess. 2006.  Du colonialisme informatique à un usage culturellement
informé des TIC.  In J. Aden (ed.), De Babel à la mondialisation: apport des
sciences sociales à la didactique des langues. Dijon : CNDP - CRDP de
Bourgogne, p. 47-61.

C. Ess and F. Sudweeks (eds.), Culture and CMC: Toward New Understandings -
special issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 (1)
(October 2005) <http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue1/>

C. Ess and F. Sudweeks (eds.), Technology of Despair and Hope: CMC in the
Middle East - a special issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication (November 2003) <http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol8/issue2/>

Jonathan Zhu,  Fay Sudweeks, and C Ess (eds.), Internet Adoption in the
Asia-Pacific Region, special issue of Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication, 7: 2 (January, 2002).

C. Ess (ed.). 2001. Culture, Technology, Communication: Towards an
Intercultural Global Village.  Albany, NY: State University of New York

On the South African Learning Centres:

Postma, L. (2001). A theoretical argumentation and evaluation of South
African learners¹ orientation towards and perceptions of the empowering use
of information. New Media and Society, 3(3: September), 315-28.

Snyman, M., & Hulbert, D. (2004). Implementing ICT Centres for Development
in South Africa: Can cultural differences be overcome?² In F. Sudweeks & C.
Ess (Eds.), Proceedings Cultural Attitudes Towards Technology and
Communication (pp. 626-630). Murdoch, Western Australia: Murdoch University

Hope that helps!
- charles ess

> This student is looking for help. Any suggestions?
> -robert
> -----------------------------------------------
> Hello,
> I am Alok Kotecha, a Computer Science major at the College of
> Charleston. I am working on a paper for my English 102 class that is
> based mainly on donating computers to the developing nations of
> Africa, mostly Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique & Zambia.
> My main argument is that developed nations donate technology such as
> computers to these counties with the aim of technologically advancing
> the nations, however they do not consider the fact that donating
> computers is not the main thing to be done at this stage.
> Below are some other arguments that I address in my paper:
> 1. Lack of infrastructure e.g. very few people have telephone lines
> and this will stop them from connecting to the internet.  (Wireless
> connections are out of question in most places due to the high set up
> costs and regular maintenance required.)
> 2. Security would be a concern - High crime rates might mean that
> high security would be needed in order to protect computers from
> theft.
> 3. Language would be a concern as well - Operating a computer that
> interacts in English my be a problem for many people.
> 4. Health Care - Many people die everyday form malaria and other
> diseases. In these cases it is always a good idea to save lives first
> by providing better health care and medical services rather then
> donating computers.
> Currently I have based my paper on statistics from UNDP and NYT
> articles, but because this is a very recent issue I am currently
> having problems finding more scholarly articles and I would
> appreciate any suggestions you can provide.
> Thank you,
> Alok Kotecha
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Distinguished Research Professor,
Interdisciplinary Studies <http://www.drury.edu/gp21>
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.              Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA       FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html

Guest Professor (fall, 2007), Department of Media Studies, Aarhus
University, Denmark
Information Ethics Fellow, 2006-07, Center for Information Policy Research,
School of Information Studies, UW-Milwaukee
Co-Editor, International Journal of Internet Research Ethics
Co-chair, CATaC conferences <www.catacconference.org>
Vice-President, Association of Internet Researchers <www.aoir.org>
Professor II, Globalization and Applied Ethics Programmes

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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