Author Archives: Scott Hurtgen

About Scott Hurtgen

Recent MHA graduate currently living in Iowa.

ICT4D Professional Profile: Dr. Hernán Galperin

Dr. Hernán Galperin is the Steering Committee Member for DIRSI, a research fellow at the Telecommunications Research Program, CIDE, in Mexico and an Associate Professor and Director at the Universidad de San Andres in Argentina.  In 1992, he received his BA in Social Sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires; in 1996, his MA in Media Studies (Stanford); and in 2000, his Ph.D. in Communications, also from Stanford.

Dr. Galperin’s work mainly focused on ICT4D Policy and Regulation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Either for this reason, or because of it, he worked extensively with DIRSI: Diálogo Regional sobre la Sociedad de la Información (Regional Dialogue on the Information Society) as a telecommunications and development policy expert. One of the main reasons I chose to profile Dr. Galperin was because of his work with development regulation and policy.  I believe that without regulation, ICT4D initiatives have the risk of only helping certain groups with the community, or even in ways, furthering the marginalization of other groups.  Other problems that may arise with development initiatives range from being environmentally damaging, to (either directly or inderectly) employing/supporting child labor, intentionally or not.  With regulation, these things can be managed and documented.  Too often, in my opinion, development projects/initiatives are results-driven and may overlook some of the unintended consequences of providing modern ICTs at a discounted cost.

Galperin; however, disappeared in 2009.  He hasn’t published since then, and his website and CV havent been updated since 2009 as well.  I was also unable to find him on Twitter or on Facebook.  His last email address listed that I could find was hernang@usc.edu, yet he left his post at the University of Southern California in 2007 according to his CV.  For a man so involved in ICT development from 1997-2009, it seems strange that he could just vanish from the field – even if he were retired. He’s gotta be around somewhere. If you see him, let him know I’d be interested in tweeting at him.

For more information, check out his website.

 


Securing our Freedom

Many discussions about protecting American freedoms and the American way of life take place in rhetoric about the American Armed Forces and their campaigns abroad.  Fighting threats from terrorists, protecting American interests abroad and helping to depose vicious dictators.  But what about protecting our freedoms at home? Our individual freedom to privacy?

The first major controversy regarding American’s privacy and communications technology came  in October 2001, with the passing of the USA PATRIOT Act.  Among many other things, some of the most controversial aspects of the Act gave the Federal Government the ability to wire tap phones, access IP addesses and collect customer communcations history without securing a warrant.

Fast-forward to 2012. Companies like Google and Facebook collect our information for everything we do through their service (for example, Google keeps track of every single website you visit and analyses that data to provide “better service” to you and to “customize your internet experience based on your interests and patterns in search history”).  As our assigned reading for the week, by CNN’s Andrew Keen, points out, as we continue to demand a more personal experience from our smartphones and other ICTs, it will require such devices to gather, store and analyse more and more of our own personal data.  Your iPhone has a GPS in it that tracks your every move – helpful for when you lose your phone, but scary that a private company knows your exact location at all times (assuming you have your phone on and on you).

It’s hard to believe that congress hasn’t taken more action to regulate and protect our private information.  In fact, the government has done the opposite! President Obama signed a 3-year extension of the USA PATRIOT Act on March 26, 2011.  Only recently have our congressional leaders begun to look at the security of our personal information and information-storing companies like Google, Facebook and Apple. Al Franken (DFL), a Senator from Minnesota, is leading the charge on privacy. If this information is so unsecure in our country, imagine the possibilities of implementing this kind of technology in the developing world, where dictators, military regimes and government’s with less respect for civil liberties, may have access to all of their citizen’s personal and private information.

For more information, I have included a link to an op-ed written by Al Franken (MN-DFL) on Wired.com.

http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2012/03/opinion-franken-privacyliberties/


Corruption in Africa: First-hand Experiences

In class this week, we talked about building infrastructure and ICT develpoment in Africa.  While examining the challenges to the telemedicine campaign in Ethiopia, and Cape Gateway in South Africa, one  issue that came up during both discussions was government corruption and (lack of) a legal framework in place to support ICT and development projects. So, knowing a few people who’ve been to Africa, I decided to ask them if they had any experiences dealing with government officials during their trips there – here is what I found out:

My buddy studied abroad in Sevilla this past Fall (I actually flew out there in November over Thanksgiving break).  While he was there, he took a trip to Morocco with a few classmates, and they hired a tour guide.  While driving in a white van on their way from Tangier to Rabat, they were pulled over by a Moroccan police officer.  He recalls, “We sat there for like 30 minutes, wondering what was going on; meanwhile our driver’s outside the door having this really heated conversation with the guy. He finally lets us go through, and we asked our driver why the wait. He said the guard was going to charge us to get through…” because they were Americans. His driver explained that most of the police are corrupt and if they see foreigners always pull them over and make them pay.  They got out of it because their driver had a relative in the military.  He was also told by his driver that anyone who gets a speeding ticket can usually take it to a police officer and pay the officer half of the fine amount to get rid of the ticket.

Another friend of mine I asked to share some stories was born in South Africa, and is a citizen of the country.  She currently lives in Atlanta, but had a good story about her parents to share. Soweto is a part of Johannesburg that is home to approximately a third of the city’s population.  It used to be a separate municipality, and at the time of this story, was.  Here is what she had to say:

“It’s the township outside of Johannesburg where the government made all the black people live.  The conditions were horrible, and although things are getting better, there [are] still extremely horrible conditions. My parents…set up a health clinic to provide free healthcare since they had no hospital. It still exists there today, and we visited it last time we went back to SA.”

My friend is my age, 22, her parents around the same age as my parents; so that means that although things are getting better there, in still very recent times, this area of 1.3 million people didn’t even have ONE HOSPITAL to serve the population.

The third friend of mine, who studied abroad in Cape Town last Spring, also had an interesting story to tell me. She told me a story about one night out she was in line to get into a bar.  The bouncer (a black South African) refused to let the two black men in front of her into the bar. An argument and a fight ensued, while the police stood by idly and watched without even coming over to see what was going on.  Well she found out later that the two men were Nigerian, and that there are issues in SA, and a lot of animosity between black South Africans and blacks from other African countries (especially border countries), and businesses as well as the government, regularly discriminate against these other ethnic groups.

These stories really bring to life some of the issues we were talking about in class, about corrupt government officials.  In my own mind, I would usually think of Morocco and South Africa as two of the most developed, corruption-free and democratic African nations. If I were to visit Africa, I would feel safe visiting either of these two countries, yet I can see now that even these countries have a long way to go in terms of a corruption-free government. I can only imagine how prohibitive the atmosphere must be for Western Development Programs in places like the Sudan, Burundi, or Ethiopia.


UK-based Organization Makes Being Deaf in Uganda Cool

This article tells an interesting tale of a Cambridge, UK – based organization named “Cambridge to Africa” and how it is changing lives in Uganda using mobile phones.  More specifically, how it is changing lives for deaf children.

We’re all guilty of texting, playing games on our phones, surfing the web, etc.. during class.  Phones have been a problem for US teachers for the past few years now.  But in Uganda, Phones in the classroom have become the lifeline for some deaf children.  These phones allow them to communicate in a way they haven’t been able to before.  Without the quality Special Education classes and teachers that we have in places like the US and UK, deaf children in rural Uganda are left with no way to learn sign language in the classroom and communicate with their peers.

This article outlines how this program not only allows deaf children to become literate, through using text on their mobiles, to being included and being the “cool kids” because they have cell phones and others don’t .  Deaf children already have so much adversity, no matter where in the world they are, and I really like this program and how it is addressing a niche development problem, but also giving these kids a social life too.


OLPC and Development in the Developed World

Despite the many flaws, my favorite thing about the OLPC initiative is the fact that it doesn’t just focus its development efforts in third world countries, but also focuses on developing under-developed area in developed countries – i.e. Canada.

OLPC Canada: “13 Schools – 7 Provinces – 3 Territories – 2,295 Students – 282 Teachers.”

The focus of OLPC Canada is to empower aboriginal, disadvantaged youth in both rural and urban settings.  They have participating schools in places like Edmonton, and also small community schools in the vast areas of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

One thing that OLPC has realized, that I believe many others need to also realize, is that we can’t forget the development needs in our own backyard.  There are many areas of North America with disadvantaged, impoverished communities.  Maybe they have an income greater than $2 a day, but the standard of living here is so much greater than that of rural Nigeria, for example, that our people are just as in need of assistance.

The US and Canada are often referred to as some of the richest countries in the world.  The US often referred to as the richest.  Yet, in the US, we have one of  the highest rates of Income Inequality, according to the Gini Index.

There are a lot of ways ICT4D can be implemented in places like the US and Canada still to spur development. We focus a lot of attention on helping the poor abroad, let’s remember to devote some of our time and attention to developing our bottom line nationally, to helping the impoverished communities down the street, and in our own borders.


Equality and Freedom: Not Just for the West – We’ve All Agreed Already

When discussing development, many bring up the argument that only locals know what they need, and that they are the ones that need to fuel development. They argue that it is presumptuous and arrogant for the developed world to think that there are problems in the “developing” world that we need to come in and fix.  I have even been told that the developed world is causing those problems in the developing world by getting involved in their affairs and identifying their “problems” and that the developing world only has “problems” because we say they do.  I say these people are wrong – it is crazy to think that all the problems in developing countries are caused by the world’s developed countries. It is clear that the developing world has problems that need to be fixed, and it is clear that the developed world needs to play a part in helping find solutions to these problems, and I’m not alone.

Golshifteh Farahani is an Iranian actress and model who was recently told by the Iranian Government that she is no longer welcome within her home country’s borders. Why? She recently posed for a french magazine, Madame Le Figaro topless, with her hands covering her breasts, in protest to Iran’s policies restricting women’s rights.  In support of Farahani and her message of gender equality, thousands around the world have taken to Facebook to create a movement.  A simple search on FB shows multiple pages which have been set up in her support. Let’s ask Farahani if the women’s rights situation in Iran is merely just a “problem” because the US says it is.  I bet she says “No”.

Farahani’s story is just one illustration of how far we are from obtaining gender equality and universal freedoms throughout the world.  Take one look at your TV. How many commercials involve semi-nude actors? Take a look at your US Constitution. The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

That’s right, you have the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest your government. These are fundamental rights that should be provided to every citizen of every country in the world.  The fact that women are not equal in Iran, the fact that they cannot wear whatever article of clothing they want in public, and the fact that an Iranian woman was banned from her country for voicing opposition to her government is a development problem that severely needs correcting.  As a problem of basic human rights, the US and the other developed nations need to be a beacon and steward for the way forward; not only in Iran, but in all nations where the government oppresses its populace.

One of the MDGs, number 3, is the Promotion of gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. MDG Target 8B: Address the special needs of the Least Developed Countries.

All 193 UN Member States have agreed to completing these goals – this includes Iran. These goals show how the Developed World must play a role in assisting the development of the LDCs.  So to all those out there who believe that the US, or any other developed country for that matter (and even NGOs), has no business spreading information and knowledge, and assisting development in other countries, you are wrong.  The entire UN has agreed that it is necessary for the developed world to be involved in the development of the developing world.  As for Farahani, if she wasn’t currently living a free life in France, she would never have been able to spread her message or protest her government.  And let’s also realize that the use of ICT has enabled her story to go global – on social media, blogs, on the news, etc… Hopefully her story will help all those people out there realize that western ideals about basic human freedoms must be spread throughout the world – and the UN agrees.


Sky Burger in the Subway

Today in class we discussed the Generational Divide when it comes to the Technology Divide.  While the discussion was going on, I kept thinking back to a personal experience I had this past summer while interning in Washington that illustrates such divide.

I was sitting in the Farragut North metro station, on my way back to the suburbs (where my company had me living for the summer) from my friends apartment on K street. I spent most of my weekends in the city, staying at this friends apartment and usually took the Red Line in every Friday after I got off work, and back out sometime late Sunday Afternoon.  While waiting for the train to arrive, I was sitting on a bench playing Sky Burger on my iPhone.  For those of you that don’t know, Sky Burger is an extremely simple (yet entertaining) game that you play by tilting your iPhone back and forth to collect burger toppings that are falling from the sky, trying to build your burger as high as possible before getting the top bun.  As I was playing, I noticed an elderly couple sitting next to me watching.  This made me kind of nervous, as now I needed to perform really well and build the best burger there ever was.

After I failed to escape the top bun and my burger was built and my score calculated, the elderly woman asked me what I was playing.  I explained to her and her husband that it was a little game on my phone, and explained the basics of it.  This is where the Generational Divide comes in: she asked me, “so you move it from side to side, by tilting your phone sideways? How can you do that?”  To this question, I had no answer, I told her that I assume there is just some sort of sensor in there that can tell which way the phone is turned, and showed her how on an iPhone, the screen can be displayed upright on all 4 directions of the phone.  She and her husband “oooohed” and “awwwed” and inquired more.  They then asked me where the numbers were on my phone, and how I made a phone call.  To this, I then had to explain the concept of a touch screen, and showed them that my iPhone didn’t have a physical keypad, but rather a digital one.  After showing the two of them my touch screen keypad, the old man took his phone out of his pocket to show me his.  It was a flip phone, with no internet access, no games, just a basic plan so that he can make hone calls.  He said to me, “It has this text messaging thing, but I don’t know how to use that, so I just use my phone to make phone calls.”

Discussion wrapped up as my train arrived, as I was heading one way and they, the other.  It ended with the comment by the old man, “That little phone in your hand can do a million more things than the computer I used to work with at my office job.”  And he was right, an iPhone isn’t just a phone, it’s a mini-computer. It can do more things than the computers of 30 years ago.  And I didn’t really think about it until then, but one of the comments made by the woman sticks out to me now, after class today.  She told me that if somebody had told her, when computers first started becoming used by companies for everyday business that in the next couple of decades everybody would be walking around with computers in their pockets, that she would have called them crazy.  And she said to me, “now that it’s reality, it scares the shit out of me.”

This conversation I had is exactly the reason we have a Generational Divide when it come to technology.  People are generally resistant to change as it is.  20, 30, 40 years ago, technology advanced at a much slower rate than it does today.  Now, just a couple of months after you purchase your new iPhone, Apple will probably be announcing a new version, set to come out sometime within the following year.  Every time a technology reaches the market these days, it becomes obsolete and out-dated the moment it leaves the shelves. Today’s elderly were still alive at a time where an iPhone would be an alien device from outer space when they were growing up.  The youth of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s  are worlds away from the youth of today, and the elderly are watching technology pass them by.