Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022

You know, I could have been in Lima (Peru). Slurping my fruit smoothie while relaxing on a sun bed. But due to the pandemic, travelling was and is still restricted. Therefore the IFIP 9.4 Conference was first postponed from 2021 until this year with the hopes of a face to face meeting. Different variants of the virus and uncertain developments led to it being held online and I managed to still slurp on my fruit smoothie in my own beach chair but in my not air-conditioned flat in Vienna while enjoying the keynotes, contributions, speeches and presentations of this year’s virtual conference.

The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) has several technical committees. The working group 9.4 on the implications of information and digital technologies for development is dedicated to research and action on the social issues of sustainable development. This year’s conference topic was “Freedom and Social Inclusion in a Connected World”. 

Introduction and keynote speech

Professor Tim Unwin, with whom we at ICT4D.at had the pleasure to collaborate on various projects such as TEQtogether and DESC, gave the keynote speech. While warning the attendees that he might stir up some thought-provoking discussions, he intended to encourage us to think about the big issues and especially how we understand freedom, rights and responsibilities. His central argument was that we are all in danger of becoming enslaved by the digital barons and their knights. Our responsibility is to work to create ways through which people can break free from the “digital shackles with which they are bound.” Various forms of digital enslavement involve:

– Leasure time being exploited through the extension of the duration of labour

– addiction to the internet and especially social media

– gathering and analytics of user data

– governments enforcing the use of digital systems for government services, disregarding the population that is not connected and/or able to use digital media

– opportunities for mass-surveillance

Digital tech is now used primarily for economic growth. Those in power always used technology to their advantage to maintain their positions of power – why should now be different? Tim Unwin claims that digital barons maximise the exploitation of users of digital media and that freedom in the digital world is an illusion. You can find his insights here and the slides here

Global, local and everything in between

The programme of the conference contained various tracks – from digital platforms to government corruption, artificial intelligence, feminist and queer approaches, entrepreneurship for development etc. Besides the vast topic areas, the event was truly global, with participants from New Zealand, Nigeria, China, USA, Norway, Peru all continents were covered. 

The discourse focussing on inequalities and complexities of the digital world was already given by the circumstances of the conference itself. You were only able to participate if you had a working internet connection, which failed in several cases. Some of the presentations had to be postponed or held by other members of the team that were connected from a different place and device. My impression was also that the common finding of the research was that there are several approaches, but you have to be careful not to impose inputs from eurocentric contexts and to align with the life of those living in developing countries and/or communities. 37% of the world population never used the internet, while 96% of those reside in a so-called developing world. Data are never just a set of facts, but always very political. Governments and institutions make decisions and raise restrictions on what and how should something be done based on them. The technical aspects and the conceptualising are subject to the political and social environment, depending on factors such as morality, the point of power, interconnectivity, dependence… 

Personal impression

A very interesting topic for me personally was Katherine Wyers’ proposal to introduce a queer, trans-feminist, intersectional perspective in ICT4D research and practice. The phrase “to queer up the research” is forever embedded in my mind from now on. The ways how the binary system of software engineering can be disrupted are various.

The idea of “leaving no one behind” contains also the idea of economic inclusion. Hereby the focus of digital entrepreneurship moved away from just profit and shifted more to other values like the desire to promote local knowledge, the wish to become independent from external sources and strengthen local communities. There are different approaches to inclusion and some tensions arise when negotiations are necessary to balance the expectations of the funders (often international organisations with Eurocentric views) and the local ambitions, needs and preferences. To quote Andrea Jimenez and Christopher Fosters’ contribution loosely – inclusion needs a holistic way as a digital turn represents a continuation of some power and privilege structures, mirroring colonial histories and unbalanced representation in decision making.

Besides the interesting presentations, there was enough room to socialise due to round tables dedicated to certain topics and to speed networking, where you were connected to other people for a few minutes and then got switched to a new dialogue partner. All in all, it was a very informative conference for anyone interested in the topic of ICT4D.

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Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022
was published on 10.06.2022 by Sanja Cancar. It files under global
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One Response to “Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022”

  1. Antonio Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughtful impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference, Sanja. It is a shame that we could not meet in person in Lima.