The recent turmoil in the Arab countries, and the hope that we will see democracy in a region of the world where despotism has been norm for decades, has made politicians to turn to new technologies for cues on the future of international aid.
Only days apart, both the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the Swedish minister for development cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, has made public announcements that resources will be made available to develop Internet technologies in the service of democracy (link in Swedish).
The approach from the Swedish government is pretty hands-on and through a public invitation (link in Swedish) there’s a call for suggestions on how best to use the resources. Bambuser, the streaming video service, has been mentioned (link in Swedish) as an example of technology that could be interesting. I also hope for more radical projects like Freedom Box (even though it might be sensitive considering it can also be used to circumvent “our own” laws?).
Net activists are encouraged to contribute at a meeting held on March 10th.
A Silver Bullet?
It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m believer in international aid and democratization. And, that I believe that technology can play an important role in redefining societies. At the same time it is important to consider that technology itself is not an end but merely a mean. While the Internet surely played a part in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, it should not be considered a silver bullet. This is not the first time that new technologies are catalysts in revolutions. Just imagine how the telegraph changed the world. Or the phone system. Or radio!
In fact, I would suggest that any societal shift in paradigm have been, to some extent, enabled by the use of new technology. At the same time, there was never a guarantee that all societies with access to the same technology would evolve along the same path.
The most important role for new media is to increase access to the public sphere, strengthen civil society and providing a channel for news, views and reports from the most remote corners of the world. It’s a slow-moving and tedious job.