Friday, December 7, 2012

I didn't really like the Araba Sey article

            Araba Sey’s article We use it different, different reminds me a lot of the topics we have covered in Levinson’s class “Communication in Social & Economic Development.’ Her thesis, that ICTs in developing nations are oftentimes used for different purposes intended by those that provide the technologies, has become a common theme in developmental communication. Those disseminating ICTs in the developing world must take into consideration not only the needs of the people, but also the culture of the people in which they are working. It was Bill Gates who said that those in the developing world need access to food and water more than they need access to a computer – providing ICTs may have showcase some developmental improvements in these regions but at the end of the day core issues need to be first resolved.
            Unfortunately this article was lacking in anything really groundbreaking:
The surveys revealed a similar trend – when subscribers were asked to indicate their top reasons for owning a mobile phone, the most frequently selected reasons were: ‘So other people can contact me’ (74.6%), ‘So I can contact other people’ (69.5%), and for ‘Emergency situations’ (36.4%).”
…Really? So you’re telling me that subscribers in the developing nation of Ghana use their mobile phones to talk to people? Riveting. This article is basically artful rhetoric used to cover up a lack of content. Yes, it’s true, different cultures use ICTs for different reasons, but the fact that mobile telephony in the developing world has been used by its subscribers to increase connectivity is nothing ground breaking.
What’s more groundbreaking is how ICTs, such as TV dramas, are being used in Northeast and Southeast Asia to disseminate information about health related issues. This topic was discussed in Khiun’s Information-Dramatization. Levinson talks about how this tactic was used in Nepal through community radio. That those in the developed world use TV and Radio “serials” for entertainment, those in the developed world have found a way to combat talking about taboo subjects through TV programs to get HRMs (health-related messages) out to the public. That is how a culture truly used ICTs in a different way:
Not limited to distribution and consumption, the circulation process also entails adaptation and localization of commercially successful foreign screen narratives by cautious television stations.”
            This provides a different way of diffusing information and developing low-income countries in terms of health, a way that is different from the traditional top-down approach where practitioners from the developed world come in and try to immediately introduce an institutional change. By providing ICTs and allowing a more bottom-up, participatory approach, attention is paid to the culture where ICTs are implemented. It is in this way that practitioners can be successful in increasing public awareness of a taboo topic in a developing nation, such as HIV aids or women’s health issues. 


  1. Tarek,

    I absolutely agree with you on this argument. Such a central theme to Dr. Levinson's course was integration of the local population into all program efforts, ICT implementation, and so forth. Tying in Waisbord's article, participatory communication needs to happen when ICTs are being diffused to the global south. They are not going to take on the same role they play here for us in the global north. Adaptation of the ICT needs to fit the cultural context of the diverse communities across the globe.

    Something else that ties into your comments is an argument Han makes in his "South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones" article about illiteracy. Yes mobile phones allow for connectivity between businesses and personal lives, but these development programs that want to use SMS to send out health-related content, do not appear to consider the lack of reading skills in those communities. From Dr. Levinson's class, we know that the Nepalese radio stations worked because they developed from within the communities and could transmit news verbally. Illiteracy is just another tenant 'mobile for development' fails to take into account. It further highlights that health-related development programs are not integrating the local cultural contexts when they construct these health SMSs.

    So you are right, Sey does set up a nice narrative of mobile telephony taking on multiple uses in Ghana, but she fails to do anything more. And Khiun's article for health edu-tainment highlights the need to adapt messages to the local contexts, but as I've added 'mobile for development' programs need to be wary of how they disseminate health messages.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Araba Sey's article. I agree with your interpretation of the article and think that you offer a valid perspective regarding actually groundbreaking progress facilitated by ICTs in developing communities. The example you provide about the impact of television dramas in Northeast and Southeast Asia reminded me of something I noticed while watching TV in Japan and Korea. Although these two countries aren't considered developing communities, the role of ICTs in facilitating progress on social issues conventionally considered taboo is fairly similar to the example you provide. In addition to fictional television series and soap operas, game shows and talk shows are also contributing to addressing topics and concerns that are conventionally considered taboo. For example, light-hearted talk shows featuring North Korean defectors or new immigrants to Korea are gaining popularity among Korean viewers and bringing to surface controversial and sometimes hard-to-swallow issues that would otherwise remain neglected. Documentaries and even game shows in Japan are acting in similar capacities.

  3. Thank you for your post. I agree with you that the Araba Sey reading lacks the basis of its argument: content. The reading only highlights what researchers have claimed to be positive impacts that ICTs have had on the Ghanian society. Not acknowledging the full extent and accessibility, or even negative impact of ICTs in developing countries caused me to suspect that the research conducted in this particular case was limited.

    ICTs for development (ICT4D) as I noted in my own blog post, is not a one-step solution toward helping unconnected communities improve their lives. The reason for this is because these developing communities are adapting and localizing ICTs to fit their needs. Utilizing ICTs within TV dramas, to disseminate information about health related issues is a great example. In the U.S. information is disseminated in almost any way, shape, and form. We rarely notice how much information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Often times something that we do come across is retained. For example, viewing ads on the metro that talk about 'unwarranted sexual harassment', which clearly is targeting female audiences.

    In many other nations that are receiving and developing their own ICTs, many different approaches will be used. The case example you mentioned in regards to informing audiences through TV dramas is a great way to help empower people who do not have accessibility to a computer to gain more knowledge and also more awareness on health issues, which in turn will help them improve their own livelihoods.