Brazilian culture is free, collaborative and participatory
After only a few days in São Paulo, I could already feel the Brazilian creativity, inventiveness, the passion for free culture, collaboration, FLOSS, and alternative technology. They are positive, optimistic and embrace digital technologies for their changing and empowering potential.
Besides that, Brazilians are also very much concerned with alternative approaches to digital inclusion, which include horizontal collaborative networks using alternative technologies to provide and increase (meaningful) access to marginalized groups. This social activism results in many attempts to digitally include those that lack access to ICTs. Besides the many telecentros (initiatives by NGOs, state governments or private investments) that offer (payable or free) access to computers and the Internet, other initiatives maintain a rather artistic and cultural approach, whereby digital inclusion goes beyond having access to a PC and simply use it. Instead, they aim at the appropriation of technology in a creative manner by each specific person.
A specific ‘methodology’ for the appropriation of technology is developed by an activist network called MetaReciclagem. They learn those that have poor or no access to ICTs to deconstruct existing (used) hardware, and subsequently train them to use this electronic waste to reconstruct a new pc.
As I will conduct my research on the appropriation of technology in one of the MetaReciclagem spores in the North of Brazil, I talked to several people involved in the network. They say that the capacity to creatively appropriate technology is a cultural characteristic, something they call ‘o jeitinho brasileiro’ (the Brazilian way). It’s has its roots long ago, in a cannibalistic habit described by the Brazilian Anthropologist Oswald de Andrade in 1928 called ‘Manifesto Antropófago'; when the indigenous, once a battle was finished, ate the flesh of the Portuguese (their enemies), in order to conquer their strengths1. Based on this cultural history, Digitofagia refers to a new current where the Brazilians not eat their enemies, but ‘eat’, or rather digest, western digital technology and mix it with their own knowledge, cultural values and characteristics, to create something different and better.
Another cultural characteristic that explains the Brazilian creativity is gambiarra. Gambiarra is the inventiveness to use a certain object in a different manner, and thus achieve a certain goal alternatively (often due to a lack of money or means). In relation to digital inclusion and the appropriation of technology this means that the process of digital inclusion occurs in a different manner than ‘usually’. That is, when I asked around how the people involved conceive of MetaReciclagem as a methodology for digital inclusion, one of them explained that the appropriation of technology in this manner doesn’t aim at meaningful usage of the technology, but at an understanding of how it functions. Thus, a user more likely becomes a producer, instead of becoming a passive consumer of technology.
Furthermore, recycling technology and thus creating your own also offers an alternative to a consumer society that produces more and more products of less quality. They claim that Gambiarra is a political practice that, in a tactical manner, can circumvent or contradict the productive capitalist logic. Moreover, using garbage and e-waste in a creative manner not only provides a solution to a world full of electronic waste. In a city with high unemployment it also learns people to develop a way of living that is self-sufficient.
Although Brazilians are critical against the current government; they complain about violence, corruption and inequality, at the same time they are optimistic. This optimism makes them believe in initiatives such as MetaReciclagem, and they put a lot of energy in it. I think this is wonderful, but at the same time I wonder, for instance, to what extent the usage of e-waste offers an alternative to a consumer society, as these alternative technologies equally serve to include these new users in a consumer society, through access to and usage of the Internet. Or, to what extent these new users, after knowing what is inside the black box and how to reconstruct a computer, use the technologies differently than those that have simply use the Internet to access social networks and MSN. How does such a methodology respond to the social needs of the excluded? That is, how does such a free, collaborative and anti-capitalist ideology correspond with the local reality? Do the new users experience any difference when using FLOSS instead of Windows? Does the reconstruction of technology go beyond digital inclusion? What does it mean to be digitally included, what are the benefits for a particular user? What effect has meta-knowledge on and the appropriation of technology on the lives of community members, and how do they use the technology for personal ends, that truly benefit or satisfy them?
We have to be critical, though I think it’s important to rethink what is relevant and what is important in the particular case of the digitally excluded. For instance, meta-knowledge on technologies not necessarily changes the way in which they use technology, but it might help the new user to develop new career opportunities. And instead of criticizing the initiatives for leading to inclusion in a consumer society eventually, we must investigate how they can be self-sufficient and autonomous within a consumer society. Finally,is the aim of these initiatives a higher digital inclusion rate, social transformation of the social user or spreading the free-software anti-capitalist ideology?
These are so far my thoughts on MetaReciclagem, digital inclusion, creative and collaborative culture in Brazil. Being here inspires me and gives me a lot of energy. Every day new information raises new questions. Only a few days left to see these ideas and ideologies being applied in practice, allowing me to reconsider the relevance of the above critique and thoughts.