Towards Digital Inclusion: Gathering, Digesting and Creating ICTs

On: February 16, 2010
Print Friendly
About ellen sluis
I am currently enrolled in the MA New Media. After graduating in Communication and Information Sciences from the Utrecht University I worked during one year in Brazil (São Paulo) as a web designer and, after that, at a NGO, developing the website and PR.

Website
http://marieellensluis.wordpress.com    

‘Problems are not a monopoly of the South and solutions are not a monopoly of the North’[1]. Particularly the latter part of this quote struck me, since within many studies on developmental aid and ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) prevails the idea that the solutions will come from the north, that is, from the developed countries. However, the (technological) inequality, often called the digital divide, is a consequence of the increasing (digital) technologies in developed countries. Ironically we are now trying to solve this problem with the same technology that has caused the inequality in the first place, upholding the idea that ‘our’ western solutions are the most appropriate.

The problem is that the digital divide is not only a matter of unequal distribution of technology; it is a complicated economic, social and political issue, whereof the rules need to be changed before actual development and the fight against inequality can be accomplished. ICTs do not play a determining role in this process. To my opinion we should move beyond the idea to use ICTs for societal and economical development and first start to focus on its potential to locally improve the lives of excluded and on how it can bring about social transformation for a particular user. Thereby we should rethink questions such as ‘what does it mean to be digitally included and what are the advantages for the to be included?’ or ‘to what state of being should we strive in the process of digital inclusion?’ and it is of great importance and interest to observe how cultural and social values and characteristics are reflected in the local appropriation and use of technology, instead of simply overloading the excluded with the newest (western) ICTs.

In Brazil, a country that has embraced FLOSS and adapted government policy on copyrights (see RIP, a Remix Manifesto), many projects and initiatives (governmental and non-governmental) aim at digitally and socially including marginalized groups by offering them access to digital technologies, e.g. cybercafés, school labs offering free computer access, etc. Several projects based on the same principle, which are widely spread throughout the country, use alternative technology to achieve social transformation for marginalized groups and minorities whereby digital inclusion goes beyond simply providing access to excluded groups, but tends to ‘improve’ the quality of their lives.

Those initiatives work from a bottom-up process, encouraging the excluded to develop their own ICTs independently from western interests. An example is the project called MetaReciclagem, which teaches and stimulate users to remanufacture hardware and garbage to create appropriate technology that runs free and open source software, pursuing a participative methodology for education, social engagement and innovation[2]. They argue that digital inclusion does not consist of simply providing access to the Internet and it, in that manner, will certainly not enhance social engagement and innovation; neither does it close the digital divide.

Instead of teaching a user how to co-op with basic ICTs, they rather stimulate the formation of people who can create technologies that are appropriate to their values, norms and cultural beliefs, and which improve the quality of their lives and the life within the local communities eventually[3].

One of the basic principles of the initiative is the stimulation of entrepreneurship, self-management and the creation of mini-companies and corporations, thus encouraging autonomic communities. The use of alternative appropriated technology and FLOSS should encourage and complete this process. They learn how to create something they actually ‘need’, something that fulfils their needs, based on the philosophy of the ‘free movement’; creating free technologies and software, independent from western hard and software companies and their licenses on intellectual property and in a sense circumventing the capitalist logic of the Internet. Therefore, the (re)use of garbage and hardware and FLOSS play an essential role within this project and thus distinguishes the initiative from many other attempts to achieve digital inclusion.

The project is broadly applied in Brazil for over five years now, and I think it is time to answer the above questions in order to move on within the general debate on digital inclusion, which has, to my opinion, come to and ever repeating ‘everybody needs to be connected’, and for those who claim that digital inclusion is nothing more then ‘digital capitalism looking South’ the main argument remains that ‘FLOSS is the solution’. However, there is a lack of case studies done on the appropriation of alternative technologies and the way in which social transformation and self-autonomy is achieved within the process of digital inclusion. It is, therefore, of great importance that we reconsider the above questions, locally, instead of speculating how to bring those excluded into ‘our space’, that is, the space of the included. A case study on one of the bases of the MetaReciclagem project, called Projeto Puraqué, located in the south of the Amazon, will hopefully bring me new perspectives on the digital inclusion debate.


[1] http://community.eldis.org/?13@256.eKNPcBfe85q@.598d3322!discLoc=.598d54eb, accessed on 29/11/2009

[2] Felipe Fonseca – Sica – Mapping e-culture in Brazil (2008)

[3] Interview with co-founder Felipe Fonseca

8 Responses to “Towards Digital Inclusion: Gathering, Digesting and Creating ICTs”
  • February 16, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    […] Masters document.write(unescape('%6f%66')); Media » document.write(unescape('%54%6f%77%61%72%64%… […]

  • February 17, 2010 at 9:13 am

    […] the article here: Masters of Media » Towards Digital Inclusion: Gathering, Digesting … Share and […]

  • February 18, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I can imagine such a digital inclusion will lead to an enormous growth. Initially digital inclusion meant shipping computers to the less developped countries. But as I’ve read this morning the number of mobile phone connections will reach the mark of 5 Billion subscribers. So for me the mobile phone will bring forth the digital inclusion. If all these phones will be capable of surfing the internet, given that a good internet connection is available, they will provide endless opportunities.

  • February 18, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    “They learn how to create something they actually ‘need’, something that fulfils their needs, based on the philosophy of the ‘free movement’”
    I think this is really the best way to do it, as it is encouraging creativity, which also profitable for everybody. It gives another point of view, which Westerners wouldn’t have.
    Very interesting article, thank you for the post!

  • February 27, 2010 at 7:22 am

    […] Masters of Media » Towards Digital Inclusion: Gathering, Digesting … […]

  • March 7, 2010 at 4:31 am

    […] Masters of Media » Towards Digital Inclusion: Gathering, Digesting … […]

  • May 16, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Hello.This article was really motivating, especially because I was looking for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

  • September 26, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing excellent informations. Your web-site is very cool. I am impressed by the details that youˇ¦ve on this site. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject. Bookmarked this website page, will come back for more articles. You, my pal, ROCK! I found just the information I already searched everywhere and simply couldn’t come across. What a great site.

Leave a Reply