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When it comes to ICTs and development, an Armenian fairy tale The Brother Axe comes to mind. Instead of serving its purpose, i.e. chopping wood, the Brother Axe injured villagers who had never before used (or seen) axes. The Brother Axe was beaten by ignorant villagers, shot down and ultimately caused a big fire destroying the village granaries.
The story describes the possible effects new technology may have on human life, if not reasonably applied. Should emphasis be placed on ICTs and Internet access in countries experiencing problems with electricity, food, water supplies and medical attention? How do we that ensure ICTs and the Internet drive the development of these countries? What strategies should be apllied to effectively reduce the existing gaps with the post-industrial world?
ICTs are commonly recognised as tools enabling the development of societies. On the other hand, the spread of ICTs could result in increased inequalities in societies, and even in new forms of inequalities (Mansell, 2009), since only those people who are in a position to gain from the new opportunities can benefit from the Internet and ICTs.
Low-income countries usually have scarce resources for investment; if those investments are directed to ICTs, basic needs still may not addressed. Mansell (2009, p. 8) claims, that ICTs and the changes they bring are disruptive for many people in developing countries and have ‘destabilizing effects on the economies’. The question is HOW these ICTs are introduced in countries, having, for instance, less than 1 per cent broadband penetration and less than 4 per cent Internet users.
ICTs are recognised as tools fostering inclusion in society on one hand, and promoting greater participation of people in decision-making processes, on the other hand. ICTs are great tools in the hands of civil society when used to promote change through media. However, as tools of empowerment in authoritarian regimes, ICTs can be turned into instruments of censorship, surveillance, and oppression.
The journal Science published a study indicating that despite the spread of computers and mobile phones, the capacity to process information is becoming more unequal. According to the study, in 2002, people in the developed world could communicate eight times more information than people in the developing world. In 2007, that gap has nearly doubled, and people in richer countries have 15 times more information-carrying capacity.
Experts warn that people who are not able to take part in spreading knowledge will be increasingly isolated and marginalised. If access to ICTs means increased access to information, and subsequently to knowledge, it does not necessarily mean that people who have access will necessarily use, process, and multiply the knowledge. Developing countries often have very poor local content; Internet resources consumed by people are mostly of external origin and mainly serve entertainment purposes. The three components – access, critical thinking skills and the ability to create content – are commonly defined as media literacy.
Therefore, ICT access issues need to be re-assessed in terms of skills and capabilities which people need to better participate in their societies, to gain from new education and learning opportunities. ‘Access questions need to be extended to include literacies related... to education, political participation, entrepreneurship, and the management of new kinds of networks of partnerships’ (Mansell, 2009, p.17).
Secondly, those low-income countries need to re-assess their ICT-related strategies binding them to the most burning problems of their societies, since ICTs can help to improve health, education, and people’s incomes.
Let's hope that developing countries will be able to carefully and thoughtfully elaborate their ICT strategies and will not have to follow the example of the villagers from a fairy tale who finally sent for the owner of the axe from a far country, asking him: ‘Come and make the Brother Axe understand something.’
Mansell R (2009). The information society and ICT policy: a critique of the mainstream vision and an alternative research framework. Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society. Available at
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24990/1/The_Information_Society_and_ICT_Po... [accessed 18 August 2013].
The Brother Axe
A fairy tale by Hovhannes Tumanyan
(draft translation from Armenian)
Once upon a time a man went to a very far country to work. He found himself in a village and saw that the peasants of that village chopped wood with their bare hands. The man asked:
-Why do you chop wood with your bare hands? Don’t you have axes?
-What are axes? The peasants asked.
The man took out his axe, and chopped a wooden log. The peasants saw this, and ran happily away to tell their friends:
- See what the Brother Axe did!
The peasants gathered and gave a man many products and useful things in exchange for the axe. They decided to use the axe in turn. The first day the landlord took the axe, but when he tried to chop his wood, he injured his leg. He called other villagers and cried:
-Come and see, the Brother Axe cut my leg.
The villagers gathered, took their sticks and started beating the axe. Then they took their guns and shot the axe. When the flame went out, the villagers saw that the Axe had turned red.
-The Axe has become angry and looks like it is blushing. It will cause troubles for us. What can we do?
They decided to put the axe into prison. They locked it away in a granary belonging to the landlord. The granary was full of straw. As soon as they put the axe on the straw, a flame started, moving up to the heavens.
The terrified peasants called the owner of the axe:
-Come and make the Brother Axe understand something.