musings on geek culture in the developing world


Another World Is Possible, But Only If Reed Richards Gets Feedback from the Slums

When I shared my last post via Facebook, it generated some interesting feedback about the function of technology in development. (In the socio-economic sense of the word, that is.)

Miam Tan-Fabian -- a science educator with experience in business development -- asked:
Why did you choose mobile games over say any other development initiative that is tech driven?

There's a whole range of tech-driven devt initiatives in the work of Pralahad and Hammond about how businesses have tapped the base of the pyramid.

The short answer: mobile games are form of pop media, and this blog deals primarily with how the developing world both consumes and creates pop media, and specifically how the ‘Global South’ -- with all its nuances and complex social dynamics -- participates in geek culture. As far as the subject matter goes, the “development initiative” aspect was ultimately a secondary issue, callous as that sounds.

Part of this is related to the fluid, amorphous nature of geek culture, writ large, and the fact that my own personal interests are closer to the more blatantly entertaining and leisure-oriented aspects of it -- be it superhero comics, or Dieselpunk aesthetics, or chiptune music. Most of it boils down to the idea of play.  As an individual blogger, mobile games were simply the most interesting form of tech-oriented development project (and to my hypothetical readers).

   [eKindling teams up with One Laptop Per Child Philippines - image not credited - source]         

As Miam observes:
The case studies that Pralahad and Hammond did aren't theories. They are real cases. They are saying that the traditional business model does not work for the places where one can reach the poorest of the there are models like shared ownership, super low deposits for microfinance, etc.

Frankly, to get into a discussion of the relative merits of these alternative business models would be straying from the remit of this blog. There’s a time and place for discussing larger-scale development initiatives, but for now, this isn’t it.

"Blind philanthropy"

Likewise, anthropology specialist and erstwhile Dtoid blogger Lori Navarro cautions against "blind philanthropy - a waste of time and resources, with some adverse effects on communities as well if you haven't done your research":
I do believe that tech brings a huge benefit to alleviating poverty, but it has to be done cautiously and linked to broader systemic issues... Otherwise you'll have smartphones with no electricity, teachers with low computer literacy, water filter straws that are too expensive/unusable, etc.

IRL what I'm struggling with is to see people inspired, or should I say Kirkin' it to help developing countries with their ideas on apps / social commerce / design / whatever, working through anecdotal insights and assumptions. 

Other tech-related efforts to boost literacy, or food security, or hygiene are commendable and worth discussing, but that’s not the conversation I hoped to start with this post. It was precisely the pleasurable element of the mobile games -- even as ostensibly ‘Serious’ titles -- that made the Half The Sky Movement noteworthy to me, selfish as that might be. (And indeed, the monitoring and evaluation report for the HTSM suggests that it’s the leisurely quality of the games that make them especially useful as tools for improving quality of life among the sample in India.)

I’ll get into this in further detail before the month ends, I promise.

For the meantime, suffice it to say that there’s a massive disconnect between the kinds of games being produced by and for the Third World, and the ones we actually consume, even when it’s not ostensibly created or marketed for our region. And that’s really why I hope to explore in greater depth, over the coming months.

And if you do know of any interesting blogs where others might discuss alternative models for development, please hit me up in the comments below.


Post a Comment

All content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Philippines (CC BY-NC 3.0 PH) unless stated otherwise.