Jun 07 2009

Technology shouldn’t be forced

by at 10:03 pm under Uncategorized

Technology is helping widen the chasm between the haves and have nots – and is quickly becoming characterized by the “knows” and “knows nots.” That is, those who can use technology efficiently and with a purpose and those who cannot. Technology, such as e-business, has been a pet project of the development community for the past several years. Projects of all types, including rural development, agriculture, water safety and women’s cooperatives, include technology components. Sometimes this addition makes sense, but all too often, project organizers insert a technology component without consulting stakeholders because it is easier to secure money for such a project. In many cases, it would make more sense for technology to be part of a “phase 2” in development projects rather than foisting it on uninterested people. Technology is like democracy; it should not be forced on people.

Last fall I took Prof. Singh’s Technology, Culture and Development class and he recounted a story about a women’s cooperative in India. As the focus of a development project, the cooperative received funding, business training, better weaving equipment – and a computer. The weaving business took off and orders flew in. But the computer sat unused in the corner. Technology and a push toward e-business was the development organization’s idea, but the women simply weren’t interested.

Perhaps times have changed for these women. Perhaps their business is slowing down locally. Or not – perhaps they simply want to expand. Then now would be the proper time to reapproach the cooperative and begin discussing options, including an e-business. With that would come training on basic computer skills, funds for machinery repair and upgrades and opportunities for ongoing skills development to keep abreast of changing technologies. As we heard from the Apple technology in the classroom anecdote, technology without know-how and support is useless.

But none of this consultation happened in the first round with the Indian weavers. The development organization had its own objectives, and promoting e-business was a top-down decision. True, the women created their own agency by simply declining to use the computer. But time, money and other resources were lost on unused and unwanted technology.

Project organizers must remember to take a step back. While it’s admirable to make a big push initially and try for comprehensive development by including technology, I imagine it can be extremely overwhelming for the people targeted by development projects. If I was a weaver in India, my first aim would be to make enough to support my family and keep the collective running, not learning how an online business¬†may help.

Technology can be daunting and while the Internet is invaluable for many, its promise is not certain for those like the Indian women weavers. E-businesses as part of development projects are a dime a dozen, and there is no guarantee any business will attain success. More importantly, just as political or cultural changes are incremental, so is acceptance and desire of technology. This must be respected without forcing the latest bells and whistles on people just because “technology” looks good as a project keyword.

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