old media is the new new media

the netsquared session on the developing world was fascinating. It contrasted two approaches to thinking about connectivity – one in India the other in Africa.

Partha Pratim Sarka from Bytes For All talked about how the telecentre network in India was being used in creative and ingenious ways far beyond the humble telephone call. In fact they were also being used to email and to blog – by sending an email from a telecentre to a blog blogging became possible in an area of minimal connectivity. This really demonstrated (to me, at least) the underlying cultural practises of sharing, collaboration, harnessing collective intelligence and peer to peer communication in a world where technology is not owned, but shared. There are 600,000 telecentres around India and the Mission 2007 is to develop a training commons for grassroots connectivity and learning.

David Barnard of Sangonet presented a very different picture. While he mentioned that of a population of 850 million people in Africa 85 million had moble phones (1 in 10!) , he concentrated on the benefits of broadband and suggested no progress would be made until Africa was all internet connected. At only 2.6% internet penetration this suggests a way to go. While he pointed to various examples of innovation in connectivity he concentrated on the necessity of deregulation. It’s true the cost of telecoms in Sub Saharan Africa is way too high – I think he is missing some signs of innovation and hope in the mobile phone area. After all it is quite possible the fixed line will not be a necessary staging post.

For me the interest was in the contrast of the presentations. One very bottom up, one pretty top down. It is true the intrastructure in India is considered to be better. Partha told us that there is a complete fibre optic network connecting the train stations of India. People took a long time to realise that could be used for other things, but they did!

At some point the immoderator asked “what can web 2.0 do the for the developing world?” It seemed to me it was the wrong question. More interesting to think about what can the developing world do for web 2.0? Invent, invent invent!

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Filed under Africa, conferences, India, Story

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