ICT4D challenge: rapidly-changing technology

When we began discussing the reasons why so many ICT4D projects fail, I began thinking about technology that I have become introduced to over the years. As a kid, I used a computer with dial-up internet, watched VHS movies, and listened to music from cassette tapes and CDs. All these technologies quickly became obsolete. More technologies will also likely become obsolete quickly. In fact, a tech blog named 10 technologies that it predicts will soon be obsolete. They include landline phones, computer mice and external computer hard drives.  The rapidly-changing nature of technology makes it difficult for development to keep up. It is a reason why success in ICT4D is so difficult.

Technology has developed rapidly even in the past decade and it often seems as if that development continues to speed up. Even the original iPhone’s operating system is no longer supported by Apple.  When technology works correctly, whether a tool is obsolete or not doesn’t matter much, as long as it is making life easier for the user. When technology doesn’t work correctly, we have a problem. When I take my broken iPhone to the Apple Store, the solution more often than not is to replace my phone (sometimes I’m lucky and still have Apple Care and other times I need to buy a new one). Fixing and supporting old technologies is difficult and expensive.

These problems are even more difficult to solve in developing countries. Often, a tech company will come into a community with fancy new devices. Even with the best intentions, and even if the companies do their homework and decide that the technology is needed, wanted, and able to be easily taught and implemented, within just a few years the challenge of obsolescence comes into play.  For a project to be successful, it has to keep up with the community and offer it services and upgrades for the technology. This requires large costs, a lot of human capital, and proper infrastructure.

As is often the case in development, technological advancement is tied with many other things. For true technological advancement, there must also be educational advancements, infrastructural advancements, economic advancements, and many more. This fact often becomes frustrating. How can we do anything without doing everything? The answer, of course, is we can’t fix everything with the wave of a magic wand, but development work must do a better job of working together. Different non-profits, universities, government agencies, and businesses must collaborate to make the most impact.

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2 responses to “ICT4D challenge: rapidly-changing technology

  • jgallag2

    At your first mention of infrastructure it made me think that maybe we need to focus on infrastructure with technology in mind before attempting to implementing actual technologies. In a way I see infrastructure as technology. If we widen our mindset of what qualifies as technology then we may be able to soften the curve of trying to implement technologies.

  • hrenda

    Rapidly advancing technology brings up the issue of leapfrogging. These rapid advancements are occurring predominately in developed countries. Less development countries that are already behind therefore fall further and further behind. So should infrastructure development and ICT4D initiatives focus on basic ICTs, which, though practical, could soon become outdated, or should they try to equip LDCs with the latest technology so they are caught up? Because it’s unlikely that LDCs will stay caught up, I think the focus should be on setting up the basics.

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