1.5 A note on technological changes
From the emergence of the personal computer almost 30 years ago to the explosion of the Internet in the last decade, each new wave of information technology has changed how individuals, communities and organizations can communicate, connect and coordinate with each other.
The next trends in technological change will continue to make computing more affordable, more portable, more powerful and easier to use. Barriers like cost, physical access, and knowledge of specialized technical skills will continue to be lowered, making these technologies more accessible to more people. Arguably, these factors will favour increased access for women users.
At a conference on ICT best practices in Africa in April 2008, the CEO of Microsoft summarized these technological trends as:
More processing power in smaller devices;
Storage expanding dramatically in PCs, devices and in datacenters around the world;
Wireless broadband networks becoming more common, enabling people to tap into processing power and storage from almost anywhere;
Natural user interfaces that take advantage of voice, handwriting, and gestures becoming more commonplace and user-friendly; and
Screens and projection devices becoming lighter, better and more affordable.
All these technological developments could have positive implications for the community ICT center. In the meantime, the increased uses of wireless and mobile technologies are having the large impacts globally. Mobile technology is increasing access, due to the relatively low entry costs associated with owning and using a cell phone and also due to higher levels of investments in cell phone infrastructure in emerging economies. Mobile use will continue to escalate as its capacity converges with the computer.
Cities and regions everywhere are turning to wireless technologies. Kigali, Rwanda, for instance, is set to become the first “hotspot” capital in Africa this year.6 Wireless technologies now allow for community ICT centers to be portable and to reach more users, as is the case with e-Trikes in the Philippines.7 Wireless technology also has the potential to reduce costs, in some cases, through the sharing of Internet connections. The multiple uses of wireless applications cannot be overstated, and the case studies in the following chapters will further illustrate this point.
Fact of interest: wireless for livelihoods and micro-businesses – UNCTAD report
The UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2007-2008 found that both mobile telephones and telecenters support livelihoods in developing countries. The study illustrates ICT contributions to poverty reduction by focusing on two examples: (1) the use of mobile telephones for conducting micro-business in Africa; and (2) the creation of telecenters for the benefit of poor communities.
In Africa, there were 50 million new mobile subscribers in 2006, and in 2007 the total number of mobile subscriptions reached an estimated 200 million. These mobile phones have become an essential entry point into the information society. Mobile telephony is a critical tool for sharing information and intelligence, and it empowers households and communities to stay connected.
To understand how telecenters support livelihoods among the poor, UNCTAD surveyed a number of telecenter networks in Bangladesh and India. The survey assessed which services telecenters are providing, who benefits from those services, and what are the key environmental and institutional factors that enable telecenters to help the poor raise living standards. The results show that most telecenters are concentrating on providing access to ICTs and on developing basic ICT skills. In line with the type of services offered, telecenters are primarily used for information and education purposes.8 The report addresses gender differences in access to telecenters, with case studies notably from countries like Chile. The report also addresses the difficulty of recording and accessing gender-based user data.
Fact of interest: cell phone surveys for monitoring and data collection
Basic cell phones outfitted with a customized application, the EpiSurveyor, were used in a two-week pilot study in Mpika, Zambia in June 2010, which involved local volunteers – all women. The phones were used to collect routine information on the wellbeing of school girls. The women recorded the answers with simple button clicks on the phones, which were immediately transmitted to Lusaka, the capital. Learning to use the software quickly, the women completed each questionnaire in just 2-3 minutes. Then they uploaded the data by cell signal to a central database for analysis.