And interview with David Sasaki of Rising Voices

March 10, 2008 at 12:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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David SasakiDavid Sasaki manages Rising Voices, a project of Global Voices, which starts community blogs with people around the world who are traditionally hard to reach because they live outside of capital cities and speak languages other than English. I caught up with him over breakfast this morning in New York before he heads off to South America to visit Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Everyday so many more blogs and websites are created, are we really reaching more people— especially people in the Global South?

Every month new people are being reached. But the language barrier is a huge issue, blogs are mainly being written in English. It also depends on a person’s social network, if their family or friends are going online. If you are not introduced to it this way you will never hear about it.

If you could give one technology tool to thousands of young people around the world, regardless of cost, what would it be?

I just saw the XO laptop [the $100 laptop], its really sturdy and easy to use. So I would give out something like the laptop but with a better user interface… or I would give out something like the I-phone.

What is a good website for someone who has just gotten online, who is not yet super web-literate?

It really depends on a regional basis. I work with a young woman from Bolivia who tells me she only goes to colorful websites, she hates the sleek modern ones with dark colors, which is something I would probably gravitate to. Clarity is really important. Information overload is bad.

Studies show that new users go online to use MSN chat, look at porn, dating sites, or play games. How do you make the web a tool for new users?

You can’t really see it is as competition. These things are important to people. It has to tie into the social media elements that make those activities attractive to people. You have to make it fun.

Do you ever run into situations where you worry that teaching about technology and blogging is western or colonialist?

Only Americans ask me that… I never tell people what they should write about. Rising Voices is enabling someone to communicate with a lot of people. It’s hard for me to see this through a colonial lens. What is colonialist about new media is language. If you are going online, after about three years you are going to want to learn English. Putting web content in local languages revolutionizes it for people. It’s also really important to translate local languages into English.

Have their been any unexpected outcomes in communities where you started blogs?

In Colombia I worked with 20 young people ages 14-25 to start a blog, and they were mostly writing about music and their personal interests. But one day the librarian asked them to interview this homeless guy, and when they did they found out that his parents had given all their land away to the town. After this the young people became very motivated around his life so they made a documentary movie about him. They got involved in the mesa de trabajadores, the community leaders committee, and had a dance to raise money to help fix up his shack and turn it into a house with plumbing.

So this is one story about young people helping this one 78-year-old guy. But as a result of the blog, the leaders of the community are taking the youth more seriously because they are representing their community online and internationally. In two months I saw the self-confidence of these young people go up. They became comfortable talking to the leaders in their community about their concerns.

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