Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Technology: embeddedness and escape in Ghana

Don Slater and Janet Kwami wrote a very interesting paper talking about social use of technology in Ghana: Embeddedness and escape: internet and mobile phone as poverty reduction strategies in Ghana

From the abstract: " The paper argues that Internet and mobile phone use represent two opposed configurations of ICT use, rather than a single movement into an ‘information society’. Moreover each configuration exemplifies quite different poverty reduction strategies deployed by poor urban Ghanaians. Internet use is widespread and is predominantly used to chat with or email foreigners, generally in the North, as part of a strategy of accumulating foreign social, economic and cultural capital; it is part of a poverty reduction strategy of ‘escape’ that is generally conducted in a fantasy modality. Mobile phones, by contrast, are used to manage existing and embedded social networks, the complex family, business or
social connections that constitute both resources and obligations."

The story about the use of internet is amazing, the internet is a chat connection for brief encounters with foreigners. They interviewed a 14 years-old called Asma and describe her use of internet as an example. She uses the internet to get into contact with foreigners like she used to do with penpals. She has 15 MSN windows open at the same time, getting into contact with people abroad and adding them to her contacts list. She feels her experiences are broadened by these connections. By contrast, mobile phone is use very pragmatically. Michael, for instance, flashes the same five people every morning (flashing is phoning without talking). Two of the flashes are to young female relatives boarding at a school in Accra, over whom he has a familial watching brief. The flashing discharges these obligations which would otherwise involve considerable inconvenience and worry. His other flashes are to friends he went to school with and now live in another city.

The conclusion is: if we want to get anywhere, we better start from where we are. An understanding of the use of these media can lead to better strategies for NGOs and government. For instance, internet use now takes place in a vacuum, and is solely used for communication rather than informational use. There are some very practical and small scale suggestions made:

. public information posters listing useful websites and how to access them,
to be displayed in cafes, schools, churches and clinics;
· the enrolment of information intermediaries such as local teachers, religious
figures, health workers, café owners and operators, through local meetings
and training. This will inevitably involve public-private partnerships and
new organizational structures to involve ICT stakeholders;
· connecting informational resources to the actual communicative uses of
Internet and mobile phone, by focusing on chat rooms, listserves and email
rather than websites, or by distributing information through SMS;
· focusing on mediating information through a range of media, rather than
attempting to shift Internet and mobile use: egg, enrolling information
intermediaries (such as local youth groups) to source information online
which can be disseminated through posters, leaflets, loudspeakers, local
meetings and local radio.


eva said...

Great post, the described examples resonate with my experience in Ghana and I like your recommendations. However, when trying to go to the recommendet paper I had to experience that the link isn't working...


Unknown said...

This link works:

Best wishes

Joitske said...

Thanks Fabian! I'll replace the link, but it happens a lot that links don't work over time

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