All posts by ashleighfield

CyberSolutions – an update of the tech that is changing our world

If you’ve read my previous post (which, to be honest, I’d totally understand if you hadn’t), you’d know that for my digital artefact I’m looking into the way that advancements in technology are being used around the world to solve important problems. This post is my place to summarise and your place (beloved reader) to understand the scope of the project, where it’s currently at and why it’s important. Basically, read on to discover a summary of CyberSolutions: tech used for good not evil.

Reasoning behind project:
On a slight aside, my favourite thing about my university degree is the flexibility I have throughout my assignments: I am given the space to research a topic of my choosing within most subjects. As such, I like to centre my assignments around my (hopeful) career. As someone with deep passions in social justice and a deep hope to contribute towards social justice within my career, I am fascinated with the way technology and marketing can be used to overcome some of the issues our world faces. And so, this project is a way to collect informative examples of tech being used for social good. Originally, as outlined in my previous post, I was specifically hoping to focus on CyberPoverty, however, as I’ve now found out, sadly there isn’t an overwhelming amount of tech that’s sole purpose is to alleviate poverty. So, to broaden the project and provide more examples, I am now focusing on tech for all sorts of social purposes. I am hopeful that this project will create a space where examples can be easily seen, compared, and maybe even inspire more change.

The project itself:
The project takes shape in the form of a website. Within the (work-in-progress) website is a world map with pins dropped on countries with tech examples. Clicking on that pin will then bring up a page of information about the example. Initial plans were for either a Prezi or a blog. I decided against a Prezi as I want the reader to have full control of which countries they are looking at, and Prezi’s don’t allow for huge amounts of text, which aspects of this project requires. A blog also didn’t seem right as I feel as though a blog really incorporates the writer a lot into the content, whereas this project is really about the information, not about the writer.

Other features of project:
An interesting almost spin-off from the main information in my project, is the paradox that comes with technology. My previous post touched on this aspect, however, the final website will have an entire section on this so I’ll collect the thoughts here.
The paradox exists between technology, the rich and the poor. As my project investigates, there are technologies out there being used to help those that struggle the most, notably, those living in extreme poverty. However, as the richer countries create mind-blowing, seemingly impossible technologies everyday, this means the poorer countries fall further and further behind in advancements. As such, technology widens the divide between the richer and poorer countries but one day it may also close, or at least lessen, the same divide. This is the paradox.

An estimated 79% of the people in the ‘Third World’ – the 50 poorest nations of our world – have no access to electricity. The total number of individuals without power is listed at about 1.5 billion – a quarter of the world’s population. Mostly in Africa and southern Asia (Gronewold). So, if fundamentally a huge, huge, chunk of people in our world don’t even have access to electricity, how are they meant to keep up with technological innovation? And this is the digital divide that Manuel Castells discusses in his book, The Internet Galaxy. He talks about the rapid diffusion of the internet and how it is spread unevenly throughout the globe: the Internet presence for some individual countries, especially in those classified as developing, is much lower. This lack of internet in the ‘developing world’ is being driven by the huge gap in telecommunications infrastructure, internet service providers, and internet content providers as well as by the strategies being used to deal with this gap. We, in richer countries, are basically saying to the poor that “you can’t sit with us”, technological social exclusion of millions of people, sounds like the worst high school playground of all f**king time. Poorer countries are kept reliant on first-world innovation, adding to the viscous cycle of ‘white-saviors‘ and poverty.  Castells discusses how the Internet is not just a technology, its an organizational and connective community. Most of us use it every single day for multiple purposes, we can’t imagine our lives without it. But what we need to imagine is the wide divide that exists because of these differences in technologies around the world.

What this project has made me decide about the cyber paradox is that these technological advancements are going to happen regardless. And so, even though this might add to the digital divide, it might also help to close the gap between developed and developing if the tech is powerful enough to solve some serious social stuff.

Challenges:
The biggest challenge I have faced within this project is actually finding the relevant examples. I’m not sure if the examples are hard to find because a) there isn’t much tech being used to solve problems (hopefully unlikely) b) the examples aren’t being broadcast to the rest of the world or c) I’m real crap at researching (probable). Regardless, I’ve found it to be a bit of a struggle to locate, and verify, purposeful technologies.

It’s also been a challenge to present the project exactly how I originally wanted. In my mind, the project ideally would be an interactive world map where users could hover over and a small box would appear with the country and the title of the tech, then they could click in and bring up a pop-up box with more info about the technology. However, since I’m not very experienced in the website-producing area, I’ve struggled with hover-over abilities. So, to adapt, users can now just click on a pin to see the example.

Examples so far:

Australia –

  • Nima: The World’s 1st Portable Gluten Tester
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image source

This neat lil piece of tech is used to test food or drink for the presence of gluten. Coeliac and gluten intolerances are heavily present within Society, so to save people the risk of eating something that contains gluten, people can test their food in 3 minutes with this technology to be sure. A handy little tool for solving a prominent social issue.

Africa

  • Worldreader
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image source

775 million people in the world are illiterate, and as the population grows, the problem is worsening. Worldreader uses inexpensive e-readers with extended battery life to provide books to children and young people. The program support the e-readers with extensive training and capacity building for teachers, facilitators, and librarians, and features fun activity plans that are designed to nurture a love for reading. The project has reached more than 200,000 people in 27 countries, providing them with more than 5,000 book titles in 23 languages. – Gharib 2014

Europe

  • Invisible Donations

Philippe Douste-Blazy, a French cardiologist and a special adviser to the secretary general of the UN tested the theory that people wouldn’t notice a small amount of money coming off as a tax on expensive things they purchase. He tested this using a service charge of  €1 on tickets for flights out of France. Between 2006 and 2014, they made US $2 billion and received no complaints about the levy. This money has been spent on initiatives to fight HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in third-world countries – Grimminck, 2015

America

Slavery affects 20.9 million people in the world. Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman were appalled when they encountered an article on the terrible state of a brothel near their campus during their senior year at Brown. When police raided the building they came across six Asian women who were “being held in a situation of debt bondage.”
Katherine and Derek created a victim outreach program to locate trafficking places and networks, and help victims obtain services. They soon worked with other partners to bring bills to Congress and introduce legislation that protects victims while penalizing offenders. Polaris made the National Human Trafficking Resource Center into a national anti-slavery hotline in 2007, which is available in over 200 languages, and a place where callers can report a tip or receive anti-trafficking services; in March 2013 they established a texting option where victims can text HELP or INFO to “BeFree.” – Goodnet 2015

  • Gun control technologies

Whilst not a widespread technology in use yet, a proposed solution to gun violence in America is the introduction of smart gun technology. These smart guns would ensure that only an individual, or a few people, could fire the gun. “One technology utilizes fingerprints. Another company uses a wristwatch that sends off a frequency to the gun and activates it. Yet another uses hand biometrics, and those are just a few. These guns could significantly cut down the 11,000 deaths caused by stolen guns. That number doesn’t even include police officers who are killed in the line of duty with their own gun.” Grimminck 2015


Asia

  • Operation ASHA

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Tuberculosis is a global health problem focused on the poorest people of the world. TB is difficult to treat effectively in this population, given limited access to healthcare and the long course of antibiotics necessary to cure the infection. Operation ASHA created the eCompliance project to combine biometric technology, deployed by community health workers to ensure continuous and effective delivery of antibiotics to TB patients in India. Fingerprint log-ins allow nurses and health workers to accurately identify every patient, and record their ongoing compliance with treatment. Operation Asha has facilitated treatment of more than 30,000 TB patients to date, with over 5,000 patients currently under care through 159 clinics in India. – Gharib 2014

These are just a few examples I have found so far. Check back in a few weeks for the final project 🙂

CyberPoverty: technology and the divide paradox

“With technology, we’ve never been closer together”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that sentence in my life. I’m sure you, whoever is reading this, will agree. And to an extent, sure, it’s truthful.  Besides the obvious opposition to it of, ‘oh but our phones also make us disconnected and push us apart’, I challenge you to think critically of this statement. Importantly, who do you visualise when you read ‘we’? We as in you and your friends? Family? People on the other side of the world? How about people in countries where electricity is non-existent, let alone Snapchat dog filters?

Sure, technology may allow us to learn about all corners of the world, to see things and places that would remain invisible if not for technology. It may allow us to hear about the inequalities happening around the world and the people who are struggling. It has incredible strengths and achievements that I am very grateful for, and technology is obviously paramount to my day-to-day existence (communications and media student, guilty). But I cannot pretend to believe that that first sentence encompasses every human being within the two-letter ‘we’. I have not bridged the meaningful, close connections technology supports with people from all around the world, because there is a HUGE chunk of those people who simply do not have access to the technologies that I take advantage of everyday. If anything, I would argue that rather than bringing everyone closer together, technology creates a deep, widening abyss that swallows up the people who fall behind as most of the world leaps, hurdles and front flips towards technological innovation.

An estimated 79% of the people in the ‘Third World’ (I hate these labelling, excluding, clouded terms of first, third, developed, developing etc. but for clarity’s sake… ) – the 50 poorest nations of our world – have no access to electricity. The total number of individuals without power is listed at about 1.5 billion – A QUARTER OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION. Mostly in Africa and southern Asia (Gronewold).

“The amount of electricity consumed in one day in all sub-Saharan Africa, minus South Africa, is about equal to that consumed in New York City, an indicator of the huge gap in electricity usage in the world.”

When we in the richer countries are creating mind-blowing, unimaginable technologies every day, this just pushes the poorer countries further and further down into a never-ending cycle of struggle as they can’t keep up with the innovation.

For my digital artefact, I intend to dive into the abyss between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’, swim around, and try to find examples of technology being used in poorer countries – the purpose being to a) make me feel slightly less guilty for being so privileged and b) to create a space where examples can be easily seen, compared, and maybe even inspire more change.

With so much innovation constantly surrounding our lives, it will be incredibly interesting to find out how technological advancements are being used for social justice and the potential that they may have to help those who need it more than we need another f**king iPhone model.

Elon Musk, my personal hero, first gave me the inspiration for this project in his appearance in ‘Before the Flood’. He said, “The advantage of solar and batteries is that you can avoid building electricity plants at all. So you could be a remote village and have solar panels that charge your battery pack that supplies power to the whole village without ever having to run thousands of miles of high voltage cable all over the place. It’s like what happened with land line phones versus cellular phones: in a lot of developed countries they didn’t do the landline phones, they just went straight to cellular.”

So, even though a lot of our world’s countries are years and years behind on innovation, perhaps they don’t have to catch up. Perhaps they can skip years of innovation and instead be supported by technologies that are purposely developed to bring them forward and upwards.
And so my project idea began: CyberPoverty – to collect and showcase examples of technology being used around the world for social justice purposes.
Being in early stages, I am still playing around with ideas of how to display the information. Ideally, I would like to create a webpage that features an interactive world map where viewers could hover over countries to see a preview of the tech used, before clicking in and reading more in-depth information. Creating the project in this form would also allow me to create a page which outlines the project and its purpose and give an overview of the technology gap our world is being split by. Other options I am considering are a Storify or Prezi project, you (and I :/) will just have to wait and see.

To get the pinwheel spinning but, here is an example I have found of technology being used for good rather than evil:

MAPPING THE SLUMS

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aerial map of Mathare Valley (image source)

The Mathare Valley is one of the largest and oldest slums in Nairobi, Kenya: home to nearly 200,000 people. However, according to Google maps, it is nothing more than grey spaces between unmarked roads. Whilst, maps may not seem that important, think deeper about the agenda that each map holds: in terms of Google, the algorithm for your own search is based on economic means, allowing businesses to buy prominence on your map. Now, delete your own suburb from Google maps and imagine the lack of representation, sense of invisibility and the struggle to know how to navigate a place full of 200,000 people. Maps are critical to our society, and so replacing the grey space with a map of the slum is an important, albeit small, step towards alleviating some of the struggles the residents face.
And that is what has been done; a group of activists, the Spatial Collective, with the help of the locals, used hand-held GPS devices to walk around the slum and create a map. A map that contains things like “informal schools, storefront churches and day care centres, but also dark corners with no streetlights, illegal dumping grounds and broken manholes.” (Warner) The map is pinpointing places of issue and bringing these issues to the knowledge of authorities so they may be improved upon. “A map can be entered as evidence in court to stop evictions. It can be reprinted by international advocacy groups to raise awareness. It can be presented to city planners, as a puzzle to be solved.”

The technology is placed into the hands of the impoverished and allows them to exert autonomy over their own home, speak up and show that they are in fact visible, and powerful.

“And the more time he spends looking at his home through the lens of the GPS, the more he can’t shake the sense that the outside world is finally looking back.” … “With the GPS if you mark a point, you know that there’s someone out there who will get the information that there’s a something happening here”. (Warner)

I’m interested to collect this data throughout the project and try to make my own cognitive decision about the paradox of technology: it widens the divide between the richer and poorer countries but one day it may also close, or at least lessen, the same divide.

 

References:

Gronewold, N 2009, ‘One-Quarter of World’s Population Lacks Electricity’, Scientific American, 24 November, viewed 3 April 2017, <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/electricity-gap-developing-countries-energy-wood-charcoal/>.

Warner, G 2013, ‘In Kenya, Using Tech To Put An ‘Invisible’ Slum On The Map’, Parallels, viewed 28 March 2017, <http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/07/17/202656235/in-kenya-using-tech-to-put-an-invisible-slum-on-the-map>.