The digital war on poverty – responses

Jeffrey Sachs’ wrote an article last week – ‘The digital war on poverty’ – which has provoked a lot of criticism because of it’s over-positive content (just look at the comments…).

The articles starts with the following claim:

The digital divide is beginning to close. The flow of digital information – through mobile phones, text messaging, and the internet – is now reaching the world’s masses, even in the poorest countries, bringing with it a revolution in economics, politics, and society. [Snippet from here]

This is in my opinion a desirable vision which can be achieved in the next years if a lot of people work for it – but it is not yet true. There are some great projects and the potential is definitely there but the revolution is yet to come.

Someone who knows more about the whole economy – ICT4D connection is Ismael Peña-López (ICTlogy). He currently writes his PhD on it and just yesterday posted a very good reply (The digital war on poverty in not won) underlined with facts and links to more information.

His claim:

Over all, the tone of the article is optimistic. I am also optimistic about the ends, but not on the actual estate of the situation nowadays. Besides, I’m becoming more sceptic about leapfrogging, which is one of the strong points made by Sachs. Don’t get me wrong: I do believe ICTs are a revolution and will provide renewed energies for those who will be capable of benefiting from them, but I think that ICTs will be catalysts and multipliers (perhaps in several orders of magnitude), but not substitutes. [from here]

Another blogger commenting on the article is Niti Bhan (Emerging Future Labs). She is skeptical about the technology- centered tone of the article and states:

The new web, the one on the mobile, must be human centered from the start. This is one revolution – the Information Revolution – that cannot be driven by technology, but must be guided by the human beings who need it the most. [from here]

I myself support the criticism of the original article though I appreciate the optimism and I too think that ICTs give us unique possibilities to help people in lesser developed countries and foremost give themselves the opportunity to help themselves.

But, as Subbiah Arunachalam puts it in a paper already from 2002:

Those that think that poverty in our countries is just a matter of not having access to information and technology are showing much ignorance about social injustice, human exploitation and inequalities not only between countries, but also among social classes within each country. Information is not the magic cure for hunger. [snippet from here]

ICTs are just a tool – an extraordinary one – but other tools are necessary as well.

The digital war on poverty – responses
was published on 25.08.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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