Tag Archive for 'Ericsson'

How Come the Poor Can’t Video Blog? Thoughts on the Digital Divide

This year I’ve been talking a lot about the “Digital Divide”. But what is that? And why does it matter?

The “Digital Divide” is basically a term to describe the technological gap which prevents the poorest of the world’s poor from participating in global online conversations that are occurring on the internet.

This is important because what we are doing on the internet is starting to have the power to shape our politics, our governments, our economies, and our own personal priorities, opinions, and tastes.

If the poorest of the poor are excluded from these global conversations, we can only use the internet to make a difference for the poor instead of using the internet to make a difference with the poor.

Aid bloggers sometimes deride photos like this one as "development and technology porn". From personal experience, villagers would rather you take their photos showing them fascinated at being connected than photos selected to show them crying, emaciated, and with flies on their faces. As I've written about before, what matters the most is making sure people are portrayed as they wish to be portrayed.

This is no more clear and apparent when it comes to international aid and development. Everyone from activists, aid professionals, and aid pundits are shaping how the poorest of the poor are served.

These aid discussions – ranging from polite and professional to snarky and snide – are shaping policies and practices on what is (and isn’t) “good aid”. But, due to the digital divide, the poor don’t have a say in this online discourse.

Although I’m no aid expert, I believe there are three things that are needed for the poorest of the poor to be brought into global conversations that directly affect them:

  1. Charity can’t solve this problem alone: The infrastructure needed to connect low income and remote communities must be laid by either governments or (more realistically) for-profit companies. Similarly, devices that can plug into this infrastructure (like cellphones and low cost PCs) need to be made more affordable. This isn’t about dumping stuff on the poor, but rather making it a viable consumer choice.
  2. There needs to be an incentive to get connected: Charities and NGOs will need to be a big part of this by giving developing communities a greater say and control in how they receive assistance. I believe using technology to connect donors and recipients together will go a long way to make this less about aid from an institution and more about people on opposite sides of the digital divide helping each other. Why does that even matter? As I’ve talked about before, the distinction between institutions and people can be important in many cultures and contexts.
  3. Giving an IP address isn’t enough: Just because someone can participate in a global online conversation, doesn’t mean they will. For example, I’ve already written about how conservative Muslims in developing countries will most likely avoid online aid blogger discussions. This is because the snark, sarcasm, and personal attacks occasionally thrown around in that space directly contradict some interpretations on Islamic Codes of Conduct. I believe digital intermediaries – or bridge-makers – can go a long way to foster conversations (and impacts) that are inclusive and free of unintentional ethnocentrism.

This is basically what talked about when I – thanks to you guys – got the opportunity to go to the World Economic Forum. It’s also something I continually talk about whenever I get the chance.

For example, with the United Nations running a contest to select a set of UN Citizen Ambassadors, I submitted this video talking about the need to bridge the digital divide:

And, while attending the United Nations Foundations’ Social Good Summit, I was asked by Ericsson to pose a question starting with “How Come?”. It was for this campaign they are running. I decided to ask “How Come the Poor Can’t Video Blog?”:

The bottom-line (and perhaps a plus): once the poor start speaking for themselves and we start using the internet to make a difference with them instead of for them, the sooner people like me will have to shut up :)

Diversity Through Networking

Anytime I get a Skype Video Call, I kind of marvel at how the world has changed. Think about it: if you’re like me you grew up with Star Trek (for me, it was TNG), the idea of being able to have a video call with someone was really sci-fi. Now so many of us do it everyday.

Spock Video Call

The very first pilot of Star Trek (which didn

A few days back, I got a Skype Video Call from Sweden. It was from the head office of Ericsson – a global telecommunications company with over $30 billion dollars in revenue last year. By the time that call ended, I was left wondering at how the world has changed – but for different reasons.

Ericsson has given me a scholarship to come the United Nations Foundation’s Social Good Summit here in NYC. I’m here to attend the events as a VIP, listen to the speakers, and share my experiences as much as I can with you guys. Some of what I share will be posted on Ericsson’s official website.

Something like this would never have happened when my dad was my age. Back then, corporations (especially multi-billion dollar ones) would carefully craft, control, and curate their corporate message. Giving such control to a non-employee was corporate heresy back then. And, as you can see below, this kind of control didn’t always bring diversity into a corporation’s message:

But here I am. I wasn’t asked to tell you how great the company is – after all, they can’t fire me if they don’t like what I say. And they don’t care that I use an iPhone and that none of my friends own a Sony Ericsson phone – in fact, as I have learned, most of their business has nothing to do with making products for consumers like you and I to buy.

I’ve talked about how this is happening – albeit much more cautiously – in the non-profit world. Experts like Beth Kanter like to call this the “Networked Nonprofit”. But it turns out, for-profit corporations have been already doing this for a while. After all, with technology and social media, an individual’s voice can sometimes be louder than an institution’s.

I believe when it comes to solving some of the world’s most difficult problems – we need to imagine these problems complexly. And to imagine something complexly we need to have a diversity in conversation. That diversity means individuals, institutions (including NGOs), and international corporations have to work together, network together, and – hopefully – solve things together.