[iDC] Re: Collective Action

Benjamin Geer benjamin.geer at gmail.com
Sat Jun 24 06:15:59 EDT 2006

On 24/06/06, nick knouf <nknouf at media.mit.edu> wrote:
> So perhaps we don't have a divide that needs to be bridged
> [...] Rather we have an opportunity to understand
> what are the real technology needs and desires of the majority of the
> world's poor [...]

I think that's a very sensible critique.  It seems to me that tools
aren't good in themselves, they're only good if they're the tools you
actually need at the moment.  You'll want to discuss your needs with
people who provide different sorts of tools, and see if you can come
up with something that will be useful and affordable to you for an
appropriate time period.  But you'll want to have the final say about
what's delivered.

> Trebor and Martin have both mentioned the importance of mobile-based
> systems to people in Africa.  I still have concerns about this that
> largely stem from my ignorance of the situation.  How are text input
> systems designed for these variety of cultures, or are we simply
> continuing the development of English as the imperial lingua franca
> of discourse?

I don't know about sub-Saharan Africa, but in the Arabic-speaking
countries of north Africa and the Middle East, mobile phones that
support typing text messages in Arabic script are common.  Some people
also type text messages in Arabic using the Latin alphabet; digits are
used to substitute for some of missing letters.

In addition to the question of what language to use and whether the
technology supports it, there's also the question of whether people
know how to read and write in any language.  Illiteracy rates for
Africa and the Arab world are quite high.[1]  Basic literacy can be an
important survival tool[2], aside from being one of the keys to many
kinds of education.  Of course, the poorest people are the ones most
likely to be illiterate, so any project that aims to put technology
involving written language into their hands will need to include, or
be coordinated with, literacy training.  In that context, perhaps
there is some potential in the idea of using computers to deliver
texts to places where books are scarce and expensive.


[1] "World illiteracy rates by region and sex, 2000-2004",
UNESCO Institute for Statistics,

[2] "A brighter future through literacy training, in Kalma camp, South Darfur",
Oxfam International, 30 May 2005,

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