The biggest takeaway from our ICT4D class this semester is that contemplating the various outcomes of an initial development idea is crucial. I hate to quote one laptop per child because this is an overused case, but my understanding of how one should approach ICT4D really came out of our class regarding this policy. It is easy to come up with a seemingly positive project that involves ICT but when it is put into practice many complications arise that should have been considered in the early development phase. First of all, you need to examine who is implementing the plan. Just because ICT projects truly do need computer science professionals in the development phase does not mean that we should discount the necessity of development professionals in similar if not more represented numbers. We also must continuously consider all the possible problems that could arise by giving populations access to technology. This is most specifically linked to hardware. We really touched on many of these problems such as waste, charging availability, and repairs. By giving developing countries this hardware, myriad potential problems come along. I am not arguing that we should therefore abandon any projecting involving ICT (that would be impossible in our current climate) but that we put a lot more focus into developing these projects that address these sometimes forgotten aspects. Once we come up with reasonable solutions to these problems then bigger projects can have more success. You can’t jump all in without paying attention to these small but necessary factors.
Another important lesson I learned relates to data. This has been something interesting to me for years considering my Political Science background. Data is taken for word way too often. In order to understand whether the information we are relying on is actually useful or correct we need to examine the sources, dates, motivations, etc. (the list goes on). Data drives the need for development projects, so shouldn’t we know exactly what we are relying on? This is something we covered right off the bat in our ICT4D course. We looked through various reports and broke them down to see what might be missing or how it might just not hit the mark. i think this is critical before exalting some opinion or diving into a project without fully understanding the foundation.
What truly struck me in hearing from a Cyber Security expert is the way we go about trusting our technology. Right off the bat he opened our eyes to the security problem we often, if not always, ignore. We forget that the people developing our software, even our hardware, aren’t cyber security experts. They continually release products that in their eyes are good enough, good enough to make profit and be accepted by the public, until they discover a bug later on and fix it.
This struck me the most because many of us now treat our technology as a trusted and loyal friend. We scan and send over W4 forms with our social security numbers, we save endless data in our googledocs and endlessly enter our credit card numbers for late night online shopping. While I am no expert in this field and am not sure I accurately depicted the ways information can be stolen, one thing is clear. This isn’t the case. There are bugs in every system and our trust level is far too high.
Take it from avid Apple users. When you enter a liberal arts classroom on campus you see Apple everywhere. The few PC laptops are often the minority. We’ve all been told in layman terms from friends of friends and Apple ‘geniuses’ that Apple computers are solid with no chance of viruses or security threats. This makes us feel invincible in our Cyber world. When this story hit the news, many of us questioned things for the first time. Wait, Apple isn’t perfect? Have we been doing things we shouldn’t have? Should we have been second guessing our safety?
The public is far less aware of the Cyber Security threat and it makes our loving relationship with technology that much more simple. It’s like dating someone with a foolproof contract that they can’t and will not hurt you. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. I only wish that more people got exposure to this topic in classrooms around the U.S. as a mandatory way to understand the complex world we now live in.
Related to development, this makes me rethink some previous assumptions. We often talk about trust as a huge part of getting individuals to use technology or accept technology in developing countries. Instead, maybe we should be a little less trusting like them. Maybe this lack of trust is worthy and this sense of questioning is something Americans need to bring back in order to make sure their safety is not at risk.
photo source: http://www.jklossner.com/computerworld/security.html
We had the privilege of hearing directly from Robert Banick, the GIS coordinator at the American Red Cross HQ in Washington D.C., as a guest speaker for our ICT4D class period. What struck me about his presentation was the sheer importance of mapping. We tend to take this for granted living in a country where we can map pretty much anything down to a micro-image. We know almost every store, home or business along the way. This is clearly not the case for most of the world. As Banick said, “We take for granted that in the US we can see a map of any city and all the buildings but that isn’t a reality in most of the rest of the world”.
This has a profound impact on how organizations and individuals can address development needs across the globe. It even impacts how you handle a day-to-day emergency. In the US we take for granted how prepared fire departments are in response to emergencies. They know the quickest routes and how to get in and out with limited chaos. This isn’t the case for towns like Lira in Northern Uganda where buildings are huddled close to one another and mapping failed to provide easy routes for addressing fires adequately and timely. If there isn’t mapping, there might not even be general knowledge of which building is on fire. This is a simple thing that we forget. This is exactly where we see “first world problems”. It isn’t in our joking memes about not getting to check status updates, but the lack of understanding of what basic things like mapping have provided our society.
The current scandal regarding the missing Malaysian plane brought much of this to my attention. We live in a society that has gotten so accustomed to knowing where everything is a moments notice. Although this particular example involves things outside of mapping, it still addresses this mentality. It sometimes takes extraneous cases to rattle us and remind us that knowing everything’s location and whereabouts is a luxury, not a norm.
In class discussion we have been noting that we cannot always take data or opinions for face value. We have to delve deeper to see what fallbacks, flaws, or gaps are in the information presented. Most data is presented on a very broad scale, largely paying attention to region or country. This is understandable considering the noted difficulty in acquiring information and specific data from so many countries with different measurement standards, languages, and capabilities. What this leads to is a lack of full understanding of the issues at hand and what specific groups may have more difficulty accessing ICT. In Alampay’s article “Beyond Access to ICTs” we find subgroups such as gender and age that have an important role in understanding the digital divide. I believe this is very important in understanding the full scope of a nations digital atmosphere. These particular factors make portions of the population more challenged than our general understanding of the ICT capabilities of a country. If we do not examine these factors in a case-by-case manor, we may apply the same solutions to countries with similar rankings while we don’t understand the root issues on a micro level.
We discussed the challenges gender and age have in our own Western, primarily American, technology culture. These revolved around whether women are less skilled or just less exposed to technology, whether age is a absolute factor affecting access and skill. If these are so rampant in our own society, what makes us believe that these aren’t even more challenging in developing countries? By addressing these shortcomings we can better modify our approach to closing the digital divide.