…why I haven’t been posting on this Tumblr as frequently as usual. I recently started a short-term job at The Economist helping (among other things) to launch Lean Back 2.0, their new blog on the future of media and digital reading. I’m still at the UN until the end of the week, but I’ve been moonlighting at The Economist writing blog posts on the future of presentations in the digital age, the recent Pew “The State of the Media” report , and the key to digital news revenue streams. Please read, share, comment, and Tweet! And, if you’re curious about the origin of the term “Lean Back 2.0”, you can learn more here.
This is how detached I am from the food I eat. While looking at this BBC photo series on cashew farmers in the Ivory Coast, instead of marveling at the power of technology to help farmers in Africa, I was marveling at the photo of a cashew. Who knew this is where cashews come from? Maybe instead of trying to figure out how mobile phones can help those in the developing world, I should try to figure out how mobile phones can help silly Americans like me understand food. Perspective.
Much has been written about the potential of technology to improve women’s rights and to address social and economic inequalities. In fact, The Guardian recently had an article on “Using Technology to Close the Gender Gap in Sierra Leone" that discussed some of the innovative programs in Sierra Leone that provide women with mobile phones and teach computer literacy. It’s true that women in the developing world often lack access to crucial technologies, like mobile phones or computers (some statistics can be found in this Cherie Blair Foundation report). But, it’s also true that providing women with technology does not automatically change gender relations, cultural norms, or access to economic opportunities.
I have yet to read many reports that address the underlying assumption that access to technology empowers women (can anyone send me some?). However, one report that does question this assumption is the 2009 World Bank study on ICTs for women’s socio-economic empowerment. Discussing the results of a 3-year study on women’s cell phone use in Zambia, the World Bank points out that there were some positive developments. Yet, the study also found that “the mobile phones provided a new focal point for social conflict between spouses and led to the reinforcement of traditional gender power differences”. Far from transforming gender relations, technology may instead mirror them.
This is not to say that efforts shouldn’t be made to provide women (and other traditionally disenfranchised groups) with access to new technologies and the capabilities to use them. However, the assumption should not be that technology = progress. Until we do away with the hope that technology may indeed be a magic bullet, we’ll never be able to implement technology projects effectively. The real assumption should be that there’s no magic bullet in the quest for gender equality and economic development.