Much of the world is aware that everyone is not computer literate. In fact, since the spawn of high speed wireless internet, laptop ubiquity, and rising demand for software skills in the professional world, information technology has actually increased socioeconomic inequalities. After all, not all computers can be utilized equally; individuals with more resources are able to capitalize on what information technology has to offer, whereas those with inadequate resources cannot take advantage of the benefits of personal computers. Regardless of the pessimistic statistics, information technology can halt such patterns of marginalization. Through customized technology systems – with dependence on regional context – and technology’s ability to empower minority groups – such as indigenous communities – around the world, technology can be seen as a multiplier rather than a divider in world society.
Giving away computers to low-income communities does not solve problems automatically. In fact, the United Nations, along with the Indian government ministries, attempted to diffuse education opportunities by installing computer kiosks around a selected number of Indian villages. What ultimately happened was the opposite of educational opportunity; the village children simply used the computer kiosks to play games and draw on paint instead of doing homework or reading books for fun. This amplifies the notions of the digital divide, for the computers did not help the less resourceful residents of the village. The problem, however, does not lie in the resourcefulness of the village, it lies in the way the computer kiosks were designed. Simply put, the computer kiosks were not tailored to the priorities of the village residents. None of them seemed to care about educating their children through online platforms, online classes, and online games. Furthermore, the children themselves, thanks to their lack of knowledge behind the internet, did not understand how to use the computer kiosks in ways the United Nations and the Indian government expected. Thus, a new approach was taken. In Gyandoot, another selected Indian village, Indian authorities set up a tailored intranet network of computers around the village. The intranet networks allowed the village residents to view crop prices from markets miles away, thus allowing residents to decide whether to spend money on transportation to certain market places to negotiate crop transactions. The networks also allowed village residents to submit public grievances to Indian district bureau officials, thus allowing the officials to make informed public policy choices. As a result of a tailored computer network, standards of living rose within the village in terms of infant morality rate, food quality, and income. What was done right was that the technology project considered the social context, and thus the ultimate priorities of Gyandoot. Information technology, in the case of Gyandoot, multiplied ideal statistics rather than divided them.
Minority groups have louder voices today compared to the last decade. This is because of information technology. Calls for minority rights, minority land ownership considerations, and awareness campaigns have grown thanks to social media platforms and the inherent powers of the internet. A good case to discuss these patterns is the Circassian case. Circassians, native to the western Caucasus region of Russia (Sochi is there too!) have recently submitted letters to the Russian, Turkish, and Arab governments to call upon their acknowledgement as a minority group in their respective residencies. Furthermore, since plans were set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the last and most major battle site in the Russo-Circassian War (termed as Circassia’s Gettysburg), Circassians have used information technology to set up websites, petitions, facebook pages, and videos calling for various forms of boycott, apologies, and acknowledgement pleas. On the extreme side, calls for nationalism (or better yet, right to return) have been made and has since gained momentum.
Technology shall not stratify the world. What matters is the context of technology. You need to tailor it to the right audience. You need to know their priorities. After all, if tailored correctly, people like the Circassians can use it to empower themselves and thus raise their voices around the world. I am thankful for such benefits provided by information technology.