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From Theory to Business, a shift beyond ICT4D
The African ICT space is experiencing an explosion of activity. This period of growth and development was first marked by the UN General Assembly decision to host the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2001. The first phase of this summit took place in Geneva 2003 and was used to outline concrete steps needed to establish the foundations for a global information society. The second phase took place in Tunis 2005 and was used to put Geneva’s Plan of Action into motion as well as outline initial framework for Internet governance, financing mechanisms and a plan needed to follow-up the implementation of the Geneva and Tunis documents.
These events were instrumental in putting forward a multi-stakeholder policy needed to encourage the creation of a true global information society. Remarkably, more than 19,000 participants from 174 countries attended these two events. The WSIS served as an effective call to action and established an initial road map needed to close the digital divide, a term used to describe the information gap that exists between the connected and the unconnected populations of the world. An otherwise noble effort, it is important we review both existing and new intentions. We have to constantly assess the progress made since these historic events and refine our strategies moving forward.
Incommunicado (referring to a state of being without the means or rights to communicate) is a forum that took place in 2005 and was an early step in this process. This event was in a new effort to start addressing developments post WSIS and in the interest to introduce both a critical and alternative point of view. Specifically, the event arose out of the need to start looking seriously at ‘info-development’ and ‘ICT4D’ and to deconstruct both the theory and the practice. To look beyond the rhetoric and to critically challenge the emerging sector otherwise tasked with closing the digital divide.
It is clear that the Flattening of the World, as described by Thomas Friedman in 2005, introduces a new era as described by Incommunicado, ‘where most computer networks and ICT expertise were located in the North, and info- development mostly involved rather technical matters of knowledge and technology transfer from North to South. While still widely (and even wildly) talked about, the assumption of a ‘digital divide’ that follows this familiar geography of development has turned out to be too simplistic. Instead, a more complex map of actors, networked in a global info-politics, is emerging.’ It is along these lines that Incommunicado introduces a new space that supports an outside opinion and perspective on the activities of the major agencies (like the ITU, UNDP, UNESCO, WIPO and the UN), international NGOs and multinational corporations dedicated to addressing the issues at hand. This approach is grounded in the deconstruction of ICT4D as a term, an approach and an agenda.
So where are we four years later? What progress has been made and what can we learn from our experiences? How has the situation changed and how can we best move forward? Now that initial policy is in place how can we transition from theory to business?
More importantly, we need to look beyond the actual technology and in the effort to better understand what is actually happening with our local cultures and societies in the process. As Christine Hine explains in her book Virtual Ethnography, ‘one particularly persuasive current format is the foretelling of strange new futures based around the advent and widespread use of computer-based communication, with Negroponte (1995) and Gates (1996) among the most prominent in a legion of futurologists. To date, far more effort has been expended on predicting the revolutionary futures of (technology) than has been put into finding out in detail how it is being used and the ways in which it is being incorporated into people’s daily lives.’ It is on this foundation that we can move past the technical and into the social, where we can recognize the impact ICT’s have on our societies and better manage them moving forward.
Tags: Africa, Amsterdam, bill, Business, christine, Computer, ethnography, Flat, Flattening, Friedman, futurist, gates, geert, hine, ict4d, Incommunicado, Internet, ITU, lovink, Media, Mobile, Negroponte, ngo, OLPC, One Laptop Per Child, social, society, Technology, theory, Thomas, UN, UNDP, Unesco, UvA, virtual, W3C, web, WIPO, World, WSIS
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