Jun 04 2009

Leaning on tacit technology

by at 3:00 pm under Uncategorized

Technology is defined in relation to its purpose and its user. My dad, who works as a network and IT professional for two companies has always told me that when I have a computer problem it is most likely user error. This used to frustrate me because I would spend hours trying to figure out what I was doing wrong only to find I had turned off something to make my computer and/or its program run right. These challenges led me to always place myself a step ahead of the technology that my school work or career was dependent upon for a final product.

The most important thing when dealing with a technology strategy is to take into account the resources you have and what it would take to implement that technology. Technology has advantages for those who use it. It can shorten distances and maintain connections where people lack the memory or ability because of time or space constraints.

The user/technology relationship

The user/technology relationship, By Gold Coast

As far as implementing technology into a developmental framework, there are three challenges that any developmental practitioner will encounter from the get-go, First technology is only as good as the people or group of people using it,  second, technology is only as good as the infrastructure that exists to support it and third, technology is only as good as it ability to fulfill its intended purpose through those two avenues.

How Computers work, by Gold Coast

How Computers work, by Gold Coast

Let me dissect my reasoning on this topic a little more. First let’s look at the argument that technology is only as useful as the person can use it. This presents a problem when technology is linked to development. Mainly because the users must be trained to use the technology efficiently and accurately. This connects to the second point I made, about the importance of infrastructure. The Internet was created by its original users to fulfill a certain purpose, to increase communications between two groups–and then across continental distances (Abbate, 2). The Internet, is now in most cases accessible by mobile phone and therefore as long as a mobile phone network is available, there is an infrastructure for the Internet.

mobile network, by Gilad Lotan

mobile network, by Gilad Lotan

Gilad Lotan looked at the connection between cellphone adaptability in different countries and how this might effect a traveler’s connectedness to the overall network. Lotan said he wanted to see the validity to the feedback loop that technology provided. His proposition of using cellphone is a positive one, however there are still several infrastructure problems because cellphone networks are not connect to a main mobile phone interface (US phones will not work in Europe without a European plan).

Another example, at my new job I’m using an interface created for the company to constantly update their publications on the web/wire. Because the process is vital to the final product’s layout and appearance I have to know how to use the quick keys and the location of the all the components of the web page to be able to navigate though them.

That said, it is becoming more common to use the technology as a bridge to people. Rather than having a direct relationship of trust between with people, as mentioned in Avner Greif’s article, Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders. While we are able to “trade” information more than ever through the technology gateway, there seems to be less value associated with these ties.

In a recent article in BusinessWeek, Stephen Baker wrote about the value of Friends on social networking sites. Baker’s article “What’s a Friend Worth?” (June 1, 2009) stated “Friendships aren’t what they used to be” mainly because of the technological tools which we used to communicate with. Sometimes it is important to not be completely connected, but rather maintain a close group for trade with several links to the outside world. He also states the importance of being purposeful with online relationships. Baker classifies friends into three groups, just barely in touch, one-way relationships and close friends. As identified here, technology helps to classify relationships more clearly and can help us see the relationships between people and things more clearly through classification. Technology can create more clearly identifiable networks as well.

As I mentioned before with my Breast Cancer Awareness and research example in Ghana, a web site is not going to be the best way to distribute information about breast examination so technology might be used to create a physical item that can be distributed in rural villages. This is an example of technology needing a transition from one form to another in order to be effective.

That provides a resourceful answer to how technology could still be effective where it did not have the needed infrastructure. Instead of giving up on the technology, there needs to be a transitional form of technology to make it accessible to those without access to the previous form of technology. In this case, emails to printer to paper delivered by people on the ground.  However, there must be a commitment on the ground level to transferring the information in its new form to those who need it.

It is safe to conclude that the challenges for technology lie with those who use it as well as those who set up the infrastructures for them.

Book Sources used:

Abbate, Janet. Inventing the Internet. 1999, MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusets and London, England.

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