Pick one: laptop, internet, radio or cell phone

February 16, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I am still thinking about a poll I saw on Communication Initiative’s technology for development website.  It asked, which of the following technologies has the most potential for accelerating progress to reduce poverty? Film/Video, Internet, Interpersonal discussion, lap top, cell phone, print media, television, radio, wireless or other. 

There are 213 votes so far, and cell phones are leading with 23% or 50 votes, Radio with 23% and 48 votes, Internet with 20% at 40 votes, TV with 10% at 22 votes, Interpersonal discussion at 8% with 18 votes.   Laptops only have 3% with 5 votes!

I would love to see thousands of people take this survey from all over the world, and have their results disaggregated by location, as well as age, gender and occupation.   I voted for Internet, because in my job I have to connect to people around the world daily, and this is the only way I hear from them, whether by email or skype.  But, the internet as a communication lifeline is still tenuous, and it only works if I have met the people before, i.e. through “interpersonal communication”, clearly valued by poll takers.   After you meet and form a connection, the trick becomes keeping in touch.  I personally do so through sending out an e-newsletter every two months that lists opportunities and resources useful to people working with NGOs on the ground.   In a way it does not matter if they read my newsletter, it matters that they see my name in their inbox.  After I send the newsletter I frequently get requests for help or news from the people on my list. 

 I think the lap top numbers of this poll are telling.   People do not need their own computer necessarily (though those of us in the US could not imagine life with out it), they need money to go to an internet cafe, and they need a fast connection when they get there.   A lap top is not so useful if no one can help you fix it, if you have to worry about it getting stolen, or if there is no internet access for you to plug into.   In another post I will have to do some sleuthing to figure out how the $100 lap top, (“One Laptop per child”) program is going, and how they are going to adjust the machine to fit the resources people have on the ground.  

The fact that radio numbers are so high make me want to ditch this blog for a radio show.  From my seat in the U.S., radio is not seen as cutting edge, and therefore is often forgotten in the development discourse that I am exposed to.  But to people living in remote rural areas, a radio is their only tie to the world outside their village.  Therefore it becomes a huge part of their education and socialization.  I have read some exciting studies about using radio for reconciliation in Rwanda (soap operas where people discuss their traumas), and as a means (also through soap operas) to share information about sexual health and HIV/AIDS.   In Sierra Leone, the only national radio station is currently managed by the UN peacekeeping mission. As the mission prepares to withdraw, a vital task becomes passing on the radio networks to civilian management that can maintain all the transmission towers, as well as produce content that benefits the whole of the country.  

As I prepare to visit Rwanda next month, my contact has asked me to bring him a used laptop for $200 in my suitcase. “No problem” I said, envisioning tracking one down on Craigslist.org.   I just hope it doesn’t break too quickly after I give it to him.  I told him that you can now buy a copy machine/fax/scanner/color printer for between $100-$200.  He was very interested, and now I have definitely committed myself to a full suitcase.  I only hope these new machines have a decent shelf life.  I think these machines could definitely offer a lot to development, since in Africa, you generally go to a telecenter to preform tasks of printing, faxing, scanning.  I would love to see broad distribution of these machines there, it could really help small businesses and organizations. 


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