The human side of innovation: Ethan Zuckerman: the WorldChanging Interview

WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: Ethan Zuckerman: the WorldChanging Interview: “The community of people who blog right now are largely wealthy, white European and American technocrats. The stories that come out the community and tend to get amplified tend to be stories having to do with having to do with technology and American politics.
That’s why a blogging community that pays attention to the rest of the world is so important. If bloggers talk about what’s happening in Africa, say, that not only means that more people have access to information about what’s going on there, it also means that there’s a countervailing force which shows the editors at the New York Times that people are interested enough in these issues to read about them.”

Encouraging people to blog in Ghana is all well and good, but at the moment, most of the interesting debate there is happening on talk radio.
Empowering individuals, for example, to avoid systematic corruption — that’s the kind of project which has leverage. Put the customs service online. Customs is a place where there’s an enormous amount of corruption, where goods come in the door and lots of money changes hands under the table. If you can put that system online, it becomes much harder to subvert.
We tend to think of information technology as inherently and essentially democratizing. It’s not. A lot of it comes down to who gets the tools first. When it’s the activists and the artists and the kids, the technology looks and behaves one way. When repressive governments catch on, and realize that they can use these tools, too, very different things happen.
If you look at the situation in Sudan, it’s very clear that the Sudanese government has been hiring pr professionals for decades to try to figure out how to deal with its public relations problems. And while you’ve got lots and lots of people standing up and saying Sudan is a genocidal regime, go online and you’ll discover tons of websites essentially arguing the contrary. Trace those sites to their roots and you find they belong to a small number of organizations who are tied to a Sudan-American or Sudan-UK “friendship” organization of some sort or another. The same sort of grassroots techniques we’re trying to use to get people to talk about and organize about these issues are getting used by dictators. ”

An obvious yet profound insight is that we can’t build the tools the third world needs without their help.

“If you want to build a tool that will be useful for political activism in Central Asia, you’d damned well better have some Central Asians involved in the process. But at this point, that sort of inclusion is just not happening.
You need people who understand who understand the local problems and also have the skills to write the code.”

As you might have gathered from the extensive quoting, a must-read.

“I think that interactive voice response systems are maybe the most critical information technologies needed by the developing world.” – the good stuff just keeps on coming. Read it.

We need to be getting on airplanes and going out and finding people in countries which are poorly represented, who are already community leaders or interesting thinkers, and figuring out how to get them into the dialogue. But people who can blog well across cultural lines are rare. They need to be natural bridge-builders, to have one foot in each culture, to be bilingual or multilingual, but most of all, to be people who can understand enough about their own culture to make it understandable to people from outside of it.”

And check Ethan’s blog.

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