Lessons from a Semester in ICT4D

 

Perhaps the most resonant lesson that I learned this semester is the line between donor facilitation and donor imposition. In the last few years, I have become increasingly disenchanted with the current digital society. I have watched everyone around me become more and more attached to technology. In response, I have clung to the bare essentials. I still have a flip-phone. I had never, before this class, even considered using Twitter or WordPress. Some people call me old-fashioned, others call me resistant to chance. Perhaps both are true.

When I think about this shift, this growing attachment disorder, I am hesitant to bring such a movement everyone. The fact is, individuals in less developed countries consistently report higher happiness than those in developed countries. There is something beautiful about living unplugged, living in close relationship to the natural world. At the beginning of this semester, I would often ask myself, “Is development inherently good? While technological advancement increases convenience of daily affairs, does it contribute, in the long run, to happiness? Do we truly want to saturate indigenous societies with technology? Would it truly increase welfare and/or enlightenment?” My inclination to all of these questions is…no.

What I have learned this semester, however, is that it is not my place to make these value judgments. In class, we had many debates on the subject of facilitation vs. imposition, and I was forced to reconsider my selfish desire to shield developing countries from technological over-stimulation. What I realized, in the end, was that I was attempting to integrate and impose my personal ideology into development. As a development practitioner, my priority should be facilitation, equipping those in need with valuable technologies. People have the right to use technologies as they see fit. The bottom line is that these technologies have vast potential for empowerment and social justice, and it is not ethical for me to withhold such technologies because of my personal interpretation of their side-effects. As a development expert, one should put the tools for success in the hands of the people and respect local sovereignty. The choice of how these tools are used is out of my hands.

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