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Does every human being need a computer?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
22nd July 2008


What is the exact role of computer networks for development?

Here are two illuminating contributions to the question: does every human being need a computer, as a tool of personal and collective empowerment?

Two contributions from other mailing list in the p2pfoundation ecology, that shed light on this debate,

1. Franz Nahrada, of Global Villages:

“I am having a similar discussion with Francisco Proenza from GTA – the other way round (because I put video seemingly ahead of digital literacy)

What is important here is that the personal computer as a device has derived from certain accidental socieoeconomic conditions, became something seemingly universal, and is in the midlife crisis now. I would firstly argue that we should bring the argument to different levels.

* the personal computzer as a customizeable environment that allows broad interaction between human and machine – but with this it also becomes broad interaction (in fact, hypermedia interaction) with humans and with the cultural heritage. -> so we are talking about the computer as a retrieval and presentation engine combined with a communication engine. I think that combination is important.

* the role of decentalized automation in development. The computer is the ideal tool for symbolic manipulation of event-chains and simulated environments. It can control machinery and operating networks. -> so we are talking about the computer as a computer and control device, combined with a retrieval engine, presentation engine and communication engine. I think that combination is crucial. It allows for construction of a communication based control structure.

Only if every individual can theoretically own the power of the process, we have a true (p2p) association.

But I also would warn against jumping into digital literacy without setting up a broader communication structure first. The computer makes sense where it can have an impact, and that impact, to be as abstract as I can here, is NOT based only on the computers, but the world of devices and the environmental structure that make it feasible.

We have an incredible experimental case now in Peru where controversies are fueling around the lack of support for teachers who suddenly are in charge of spreading universal digital literacy.

2. Vinay Gupta, of global swadeshi:

It’s an academic point. 50% of the human race has cell phones. Cell phones are turning into little internet terminals day by day. The other 50% of the human race is buying cell phones as fast as humanly possible.

It’s a done deal. By 2020, the entire world will have cell phones that look and work a lot like computers.

Hence, whether it’s important or not doesn’t matter: it’s inevitable, and if it’s important, we’ll find out how soon enough :-)

And, yes, all that said, I think it’s damn important – if I was some uneducated farmer in a rural area of a poor country, and I could download videos on the internet of farming techniques that would double my crops… that’s the lifeline. Same for water, for cooking, maybe even for shelter.

See my contribution here which is kind of my latest take on this. Develop the content for TV, then split it into chunks and spread it as video as the network spreads. Developing the content is key – right now, it’s *really freaking hard* to build out the basic necessities of life using instructions you find on the internet. We need to make it first possible, then easy, then ubiquitous.

All these poor people are going to have is a network. We have to make it possible for them to haul themselves out of poverty using it, like a ladder thrown into a lake.

if we’re talking 5 billion poor, 3 billion *really* poor, and 1 billion poor-like-death, we need to focus on taking what they *have* – which right now is dirt-and-nothing, and making it into a solution. I don’t know how to turn dirt-plus-nothing into a solution.

But I do know how to turn dirt-plus-internet into a solution. Here’s your rocket stove design, here’s your SODIS / solar water pasteurization, here’s your germ theory, here’s your green manures, here’s your treadle pump – ship the designs, and they’ll scavenge together the equipment which is, in many cases, nothing at all or a waste stream.

The article here is my fundamental take on all of this. I don’t know how to say it better than that: 50% of all global death, of the number of humans who leave the planet each year, is preventable with appropriate technology type interventions. The network can carry that change, if the content is ready.

But the funding is tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. We can show what is *possible* with volunteers, but making it mainstream global change is going to require money.

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