In the final week of of the first part of INST 888 we discussed Information Technology and Communication for Development or ICT4D. We were visited by Arunesh Mathur, who is a future PhD student in the iSchool. We also read three papers on the subject: Toyama (2010), Wyche, Schoenebeck, & Forte (2013), Toyama (2013). Arunesh had worked previously at Microsoft Research in Bangalore, India on the development of an offline version of Wikipedia where bandwidth was limited. Kentaro Toyama, the author of two of the papers, helped found Microsoft Research in Bangalore. In addition Leah Findlater (our professor) spent some time at the same center.

We had a pretty heated discussion of the Wyche et al. (2013) article, mostly centered on methodological issues. The big assumption in the paper seemed to be that Facebook use in India was something worth studying: that people in India actually needed or valued it. There was some uncertainty about the ethics of hanging out in internet cafe’s and observing people to see if they were using Facebook, and then entering into an interview conversation with them. There are all sorts of observer effect style complications that can come about when an obvious outsider from a western country starts interviewing someone about their use of a western product like Facebook.

These issues were summed up with three pieces of advice for ICT4D research:

  1. As in some forms of anthropological research, immersion is important to thoroughly understand the environment, which can lead to an intuition to provide solutions.
  2. Adapt new technologies, and iteratively develop prototypes to develop an innovation in that environment to solve a particular problem.
  3. Evaluate results, and develop a scientific proof that the innovation is having an actual impact.

You can see Toyama talk about it in this short video:

As Toyama talks about in Toyama (2013), he came to a realization that we may be deluded in seeking technical answers to social problems. His idea of the Law of Amplification, which is further developed in his recently published book Geek Heresy, is that technology can widen the gaps between the haves and have nots, rather than bridging them.

In the second half of the class I lead a discussion about Ahmed, Mim, & Jackson (2015). Somehow I accidentally prepared for a discussion of S. J. Jackson, Ahmed, & Rifat (2014). This proved ot be quite confusing, becuase both papers draw on the same set of interview content acquired over several months of ethnographic research in Bangladesh. We were actually able to have a fairly involved discussion for fifteen minutes before I realized my mistake. I suspect this didn’t reflect well on the questions I was asking!

At any rate there were a few takeaways from the discussion. 80 interviews sounds like a lot. It sounded like many interviews may have been done as part of just noting down experiences while working as an apprentice in some of the repair shops. However it wasn’t clear if these 70 interviews were with all different people, or if some interview sessions occurred with the same individual more than once. Typically interviews reach a saturation point much before 70, at which point no new information is being learned. It was my impression that the cost of sending someone to Bagladesh (in time and money) meant that collecting a large amount of data was advantageous. But I don’t remember that being spelled out.

One big takeaway for me was it seemed like there were a lot of parallels between the technologies deployed and made available to archives, and ICT4D environments. Perhaps this isn’t charitable, but the resources deployed to archives is often threadbare, to the point that much needs to be done with comparitively little. It seems like some of the techniques that are useful in ICT4D contexts could also be useful in many archives. Additionally the ethnographic technique of immersion also could have real benefits for understanding the way archives actually work in practice, compared to the theory we see in the research literature. I have a hunch that Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing might be a good conference venue for me to spend some time exploring, at least in terms of proceedings, and maybe some day to attend.

References

Ahmed, S. I., Mim, N. J., & Jackson, S. J. (2015). Residual mobilities: Infrastructural displacement and post-colonial computing in bangladesh. In. CHI; Association of Computing Machinery. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702573

Jackson, S. J., Ahmed, S. I., & Rifat, M. R. (2014). Learning, innovation, and sustainability among mobile phone repairers in dhaka, bangladesh. In Proceedings of the 2014 conference on designing interactive systems (pp. 905–914). Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved from http://sjackson.infosci.cornell.edu/JacksonAhmedRifat_LearningInnovationSustainabilityAmongMobilePhoneRepairersinDhaka.pdf

Toyama, K. (2010). Human–computer interaction and global development. Foundations and Trends in Human-Computer Interaction, 4(1), 1–79.

Toyama, K. (2013). Our equal future: Does technology hold the key to a flatter world? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/05/our-equal-future-does-technology-hold-the-key-to-a-flatter-world/276337/

Wyche, S. P., Schoenebeck, S. Y., & Forte, A. (2013). Facebook is a luxury: An exploratory study of social media use in rural kenya. In Proceedings of the 2013 conference on computer supported cooperative work (pp. 33–44). Association for Computing Machinery.