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Can technology help the poor?

By theboz in Technology
Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:34:37 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

From this article in The Irish Times, a question has been raised in my mind. Can technology help raise poor nations out of poverty, or is it better to spend the money on food to take care of their needs now?

In the past, my point of view has been that these people need food now in order to survive. However, as the old saying goes, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." I think it could technically be possible for some of these poor nations to get richer with technology, but who would it help? Would the small upper classes maintain their wealth while the rest suffer? There were some statements by famous people in the industry, and even though I am often anti-Microsoft I have to agree with Bill Gates here:

"There is no electricity. No power systems. These people are trying to stay alive. There is no need for a PC."

But, at the same time, Jeff Bezos hits us with a contrary opinion:

"Some countries will be able to skip entire layers of infrastructure that we had to build, locations with poor landline infrastructure can go directly to cellular and fibre."

So what are your opinions? I know that some charities try to do a little of both by taking food, medicine and educational equipment to the poor, but if we have to set a higher priority, what would it be? Do we send corn, computers, or nothing at all to the poor?


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What should we do with the poor?
o Teach them how to not be poor 33%
o Give them what they need to survive 11%
o Give them modern technology 6%
o Nothing, they can take care of themselves 6%
o Eat them. Soylent green is people! 29%
o I don't know 11%

Votes: 92
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Can technology help the poor? | 36 comments (34 topical, 2 editorial, 1 hidden)
The Irish Times (3.20 / 10) (#1)
by theboz on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:15:16 PM EST

I just thought it would be better to post this here rather than in the article, but notice how in the collage they have at the top of the page, there is the picture of Bill Gates with pie on his face. That's great. I wish the New York Times did something like that.



Yeah sure (3.18 / 11) (#2)
by Defect on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:17:58 PM EST

Some countries will be able to skip entire layers of infrastructure that we had to build, locations with poor landline infrastructure can go directly to cellular and fibre.

This is a completely insane argument. What does fibre or any other cable make a difference if thousands of people become homeless or die in the meantime? It's a great idea, but there are so many other things that a community needs before others can shove technology down their throats. It'd be like giving cars to a neighborhood where the farthest a person needs to go is a couple blocks. It's just too much. It'd be nice eventually, but better things can be done before it.

There are reasons we weren't born with antennae up our asses; as humans, there are things more important than technology.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
Actually, sometimes it works. (3.60 / 10) (#3)
by marlowe on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:26:12 PM EST

Japan was able in the 19th century to modernize quite quickly, by skipping all that Renaissance era experimenting with water power and windmills and whatnot.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
[ Parent ]
It is false dichotomy. (none / 0) (#34)
by elenchos on Mon Dec 25, 2000 at 03:36:00 AM EST

Gates and Bezos are both right.

If a country is in a position to benefit from telecommunications, then it makes sense to go straight to fiber and cellular rather than recapitulate the whole ladder of progress that the first world climbed. On the other hand, many countries have much more fundamental problems, like genocide, famine or, a gang of criminals for a government. For a country that bad off, it is beside the point to debate which path modernization should take.

[ Parent ]

History tells us (4.25 / 12) (#4)
by maketo on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:30:59 PM EST

That every technology west wants to discard of ends up in the underdeveloped. Coming from a poor country where average monthly salary is around US$ 80-120, I know of many companies and people that own and use computers in everyday lives. Does this mean anything to the country? No. Does this mean we are advancing ourselves? No. Does this mean we are skipping layers of dont-know-what? No. It only means we are chatting online and providing interned services for email. A country functions through industry, tourism, production. What you produce people either eat or sell to earn money. From this money taxes are paid. The taxes pay for bettering the country as well as any business the government has engaged in, providing it was successful. Now, there are zillions of factors contributing to what you produce/offer and if anyone will buy it: surrounding countries/region, political stability in the country, economic conditions in the country, educational standards in the country, the background (how will you make turn an agri-land into a compu-land in a whim).... Since some of us were not lucky to live on a separate continent and be spared of all the local wars going on for hundreds of years, we cannot, obviously, close down all heavy and light industry factories and re-orient on "internet". After all, the first country that decides to wage war doesnt have to attack us, they just need to provide lower prices for what we do and destroy us...If you really are into helping the poor - give us money. You cannot expect a country to rise from the ashes without financial support. But I believe the policy is "give enough to keep them on their knees, begging for more"....
agents, bugs, nanites....see the connection?
hmm.. (2.50 / 6) (#24)
by gregholmes on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 06:18:33 AM EST

It wasn't luck that landed my ancestors on a seperate continent, it was bravery, a willingness to take risks.

Giving anyone money is "giving them just enough to keep them dependent". Somehow it is never enough. Then stop giving, give them less, or even don't keep increasing it and watch them protest.

What poverty we have here is poverty of the soul, created by paying people to be poor. The jewel of government is the public housing project. So I doubt poverty can be solved elsewhere either just by giving money.

[ Parent ]
Oh really? (3.66 / 3) (#26)
by maketo on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 09:12:13 AM EST

Well....I guess what is next - you are going to tell me that you will teach us to fish so we can catch the fish, instead of giving us the fish for a day? :)

My country has just over 2 million people. We dont need 300 billion dollars to take us out of misery. But we sure as hell dont need to fight for months for a 1 or 10 million dollar credit. Come to think of this - someone posted a story yesterday on how it feels to spend a mill a day. Well....
agents, bugs, nanites....see the connection?
[ Parent ]

Ditto (2.80 / 5) (#27)
by 0xdeadbeef on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 09:59:42 AM EST

I know, instead of giving them money, we should let them learn how to steal it. The best education is that learned in desperation.

[ Parent ]
The white man's burden (3.87 / 8) (#28)
by YellowBook on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 10:51:29 AM EST

It wasn't luck that landed my ancestors on a seperate continent, it was bravery, a willingness to take risks.

Bravery, a willingness to take risks, and the ruthlessness needed to do whatever it took to take the land they wanted away from its original inhabitants. Sheesh.

[ Parent ]
Don't ignore the cultural issues. (2.69 / 13) (#5)
by marlowe on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:33:11 PM EST

To be blunt, most backward countries are backward for a reason. If you try to modernize them, they may actively resist.

To see what I mean, read David Landes' Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Here is a review.
-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --

Oh please..... (2.70 / 10) (#15)
by jazzido on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:12:18 PM EST

First of all, you should explain what do you mean with "modernization".

Probably i live in a "backward country", but people here wants to live better. They will not resist to do it. They just want to eat everyday.

And Landes is an asshole.

"Patriotism is the last resource of scoundrels" (Samuel Johnson)

[ Parent ]

Modernization (3.75 / 4) (#25)
by dabadab on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 08:00:26 AM EST

It is a thing that people want to live better, but they are often resistant to changes as these changes most probably have negative effects, too.
For example, take the ex-socialist countries of Europe. In the 80's they wanted a life like people in western contries had (i.e. they wanted to make lots of money and the freedom to spend it (hell, in some countries (e.g. the DDR) it was harder to spend your money than to earn it, as it was regulated how much property could you have and the shops tended to be empty))
But now, as those ex-socialist countries are heading towards a democratic-capitalist state (in fact, they are), people suddenly have a nostalgia for the good old days, when there were no unemployment (it was ILLEGAL not to work) and whatever little they had, they had it, no fighting was necessary for your everyday bread. So, some people are upset, and want back the so called "socialism" (which it was not - but I digress), and they want the changes to hell. So much about people wanting changes.
(And this was just a relatively minor change, East and West Germany are populated with the same people, having the same culture, it was just 50 years of divergence - now try to image how do people react tochanges when they are really major: they are not happy and do not want them)
Real life is overrated.
[ Parent ]
Knowledge divide / Digital divide (4.45 / 11) (#6)
by joto on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:33:43 PM EST

These people don't need a PC. They need food, clothing, shelter and medicines. But they also need education. Shipping down old PCs will not help that. They need to learn how to read and write. They need to learn accounting (more important than it seems, because it helps reduce corruption). They need electricians, plumbers, dentists, doctors, lawyers, and auto-repairmen. They need to learn how to build a power plant. They need to learn how to build proper infrastructure, waterpipes, sewers, railroads, roads, airports. Sure, some of them could use some education in computers as well. But for basic education we've managed fine without computers for the last 6000 years (do we know of older cultures knowing about writing and mathematics?). Basic education is what they need. Don't send them an old PC. Send them your old college textbooks instead :-)

What people need (3.83 / 6) (#8)
by titivillus on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:44:59 PM EST

This may be a chicken-and-egg question, but I think the first thing people need is stable government that works for the people. Famine is not caused by weather, it is caused by a government that doesn't choose to feed its people. Of course, a good step toward this is education. I agree that civics, accountancy and civil engineering are likely going to be more important than computer science. But the key point is good governance.

[ Parent ]
Difficult Question.. (3.40 / 10) (#7)
by ignatiusst on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:39:32 PM EST

Why is this a difficult question? I think it must be because of the nature of the situation (life and death is pretty weighty) and because both sides have valid arguments.

Certainly, to have people starving and dying of disease is unacceptable, and the immediate remedy is to feed them and give them medicine. But if relief takes the form of immediate satisfaction, then the condition perpetuates. Hunger will continue to exist because we do not provide technology to improve crop growth. Disease still debilitates because we do not fund the training of their scientist (who in turn develop medicines). If a dichotomy exists - that is, if we cannot both give a helping hand socially and technologically (and I don't think we can, at least not in amounts sufficient to create a significant impact) - then the alternative is harsh. The alternative must necessarily put a value on life. Someone must decide that the sacrifice of n people per x dollars is justified in order to build a technology infrastructure that will bring a country out of poverty.

It is unfortunate that there isn't a win-win situation. A global remedy that says "Let's spend a lot of money to feed and heal the poor and at the same time build their infrastructure." But, that is not very realistic, and I am not sure where it would end: "while we are at it, let's spend the time/money to send root out their corrupt government and establish a democracy"

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. -- Jonathan Swift

An American perspective... (4.58 / 17) (#9)
by Miniluv on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:52:49 PM EST

I cannot speak from experience about what it's like to live in Sub-Saharan Africa, or Yugoslavia, or Chile, or any of the other "third-world" countries, because I grew up in a middle class house, on a middle class street, in the suburbs of Chicago. What I can speak from experience about is technology, and I can also speak of the knowledge I've gained in talking to people who have lived in, and often surmounted, the difficult conditions in some of these locales.

Laying fiber throughout Rwanda is not going to stop the killing, and no one can eat fiber cable either. Boating in loads of wheat isn't the entire answer either, nor is setting up medical tents for as long as the money will last. Helping these countries is an evolutionary process, not a one step fix.

A situation like this must be dealt with in the same way a doctor handles an emergency patient. Symptoms and causes must be evaluated quickly and efficiently before the situation worsens too badly with these symptoms being ranked in order of importance. That order of importance should place the most immediate dangers at the top, and the smallest issues at the bottom. Then you deal with them on a symptom level first, and a root cause level second. As you march down the list each problem will be easier than the one previous, and this will accelerate both because the problems themselves are easier, and because progress builds on itself.

Take hunger for example, intially you have to provide food for people to eat, because starving people can not take advantage of anything else. Once you've got the "right now" hunger out of the way you can begin building a farming infrastructure, providing machinery and training for things like irrigation and harvesting to boost efficiency. It's been proven that you can farm virtually any landy with enough determination and elbow grease. If you don't believe that, visit Israel.

Education is one of the longest lasting, highest impact relief forms we can provide to any country, but it alone will not solve anything. Education must be written onto a fairly clean slate, or it gets lost in the clutter of more immediate problems like armed conflict or starvation.

One other major point, in my mind, is that we cannot dictate to these people what they're going to get, and how they're going to use it. Instead we have to send people there who're willing to make a long term commitment to getting to know the local culture, the people, the situation as a whole and working with the people towards a solution they, as a majority, are interested in.

Shoving democracy down their throats isn't the way, because not every group wants a democracy. If, for example, the Rwandans want a philosopher-king then let them have it. We can still work within that system to better the lives of as many people as possible.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'

As an example... (4.68 / 16) (#11)
by jazzido on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:58:13 PM EST

I live in Argentina, and it's not a poor country (yet. sadly we're going that way thanks to the IMF fellas).

But the previous administration (from the Partido Justicialista), shipped PCs to every rural school, without checking if they had power lines. (!). As you can imagine, that raised lots of controversy.

Now, the current administration (the Union Civica Radical, political adversaries of the Justicialistas), sells PCs (even Bill Gates came here to arrange the sale of a gazillon Windows licenses to the state) to the state employees, without checking if they even have a phone line to connect to the Internet.

Now, i should add that dialup access to the 'net is fucking expensive. It costs us approx. $0.40/hour (at night), double that at daylight time.

Technology isn't helping the poor here, and the government measures to promote tech sound like a joke to us. (pardon my english :)

"Patriotism is the last resource of scoundrels" (Samuel Johnson)

Back when the web was young... (2.75 / 8) (#22)
by SvnLyrBrto on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 07:46:17 PM EST

... or at least back when the world outside academeia had just realised there was such a thing:

>Now, i should add that dialup access to the 'net is
>fucking expensive. It costs us approx.$0.40/hour
>(at night), double that at daylight time.

$0.40/hour is not "fucking expensive". In fact, it was not TOO long ago that you would pay more than that here in the US. It sounds right in line with what the prices were when the internet started to catch on here.

When I first went off to college (1994) I has a username (actually a user number...) on my dad's Compuserve account. For that access, we paid, IIRC, $25 for unlimited access to "basic" features, and 5 hours/month access to "premium" features. Access to networks outside Compuserve's were all (excepting internet email, IIRC, but INCLUDING the web, telnet, and usenet) premium features. $5/hour anyone?

Of course, at college, net access was free; but we had ridiculously few modems in the dialup pool for outside access if you wanted to work from home (or just surf at home).

When I got tired of the AOL-ish busy signal game with the school's modem pool, I went shopping for my own dialup access account. Compuserve obviously wouldn't do, $5/hr *IS* ridiculously expensive. I found a local ISP that provided me with 40 hours/ month for $20... a GOOD deal at the time. That comes out to $0.50/hr.

Back then, that 40 hrs was quite adaquate... of course since it was a dialup and not DSL, I tended not to stay connected 24/7 like I do now. But $0.40 is hardly the criminal "fucking expensive" price gougeing you suggest. It sounds to me like you are just a couple years behind on the infrastructure/priceing plans curve.


Imagine all the people...
[ Parent ]

Thats all fine but... (none / 0) (#32)
by ChannelX on Sat Dec 23, 2000 at 12:44:22 AM EST

...are you considering what the average income is in Argentina? I don't know myself but I would suspect it's low enough that the poster thought $0.40 was a large amount of money. If the person is making $3 a day then that $0.40 is a lot of money. I'm assuming that you're from the US based on your post. It's probably not a good idea to apply your standard of living to other people living in other countries.

[ Parent ]
What do 3rd world nations actually need? (4.30 / 10) (#12)
by Dakkon on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:59:30 PM EST

Personally, I think there are a few critical things that could help establish a stable infrastructure before we start worrying about more advanced technologies. I think most people would agree that we can't just keep giving impoverished nations money and food forever. Sooner or later they need to be able to support themselves. There is really only one thing that is absolutely critical for self support, and that is the ability to produce food.

What I think we need to send to these countries is seeds, farming equipment, and someone to teach them what to do with it. Along with this send contruction equipment and construction materials to begin work on expanding the infrastructure. Once this base set of requirements for survival is met, sure, go ahead and build power plants. Lay as much fibre as you want. There are certain levels of progress and infrastructure building that you can skip. The ability to produce food is not one of them.

Just as a complete side thought. Do you suppose anyone has ever thought to ask these countries what they need?

my .02$

Been there, done that. (4.77 / 9) (#19)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:25:17 PM EST

What I think we need to send to these countries is seeds, farming equipment, and someone to teach them what to do with it.

If memory serves me correctly, back in the 60's and 70's this was tried. It was called the "Green Revolution." What ended up happening is that Western countries in their arrogance attempted to teach many African nations how to farm the Western way and ended up making things worse. Arable land was destroyed due to erosion from bad farming techniques. Corruption took away the money designated for tractors and equipment and civil war moved in and destroyed the little progress that was made.

Undoubtedly, there is some way to help, but first the countries intending to help (like the US) need to understand that just because something works in our culture on our land doesn't mean that it will work in another culture in another land.

[ Parent ]

it pronounced: im·pe·ri·al·ism (3.83 / 6) (#29)
by kellan on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 11:47:45 AM EST

think most people would agree that we can't just keep giving impoverished nations money and food forever. Sooner or later they need to be able to support themselves. There is really only one thing that is absolutely critical for self support, and that is the ability to produce food.

thats sweet, it really is. but the issue is not "giving impoverished nations money and food", its "stop exploiting southern hemisphere" and allow it to build its own infastructure. most places in the world didn't used to have a problem producing food, food production is one of the major reasons people congregate even in the 20th century.

this changed w/ the rise of the neo-liberal agenda for global capital, which, among other things, forced people off the land and into cities and factory jobs.

do i think technology can help the poor? i hope so, because at my heart i'm a technophile, but i think it is way down on the list of things that need to change.

i think it serve a better function of disseminating information to north, where people like you and me have a chance to tell the transnational corporation that use our countries as home base in their ongoing attacks of the "third world" that the world has to change.


[ Parent ]

re: it [sic] pronounced: im·pe·ri·al·ism (none / 0) (#33)
by yannick on Sat Dec 23, 2000 at 02:14:06 AM EST

but the issue is not "giving impoverished nations money and food", its "stop exploiting southern hemisphere" and allow it to build its own infastructure.

True, there is and has been imperialist "exploitation" going on and that has, to varying degrees, been the cause of a lot of the problems that developing countries are experiencing. But in how many of these countries is such "exploitation" the sole reason why they haven't flourished? (Hint: none).

The real factor preventing growth in the overwhelming majority of developing nations is, as Dakkon pointed out, the absence of a stable government and solid infrastructure. Not imperialist swine oppressing the populace.

Oh yes... one more thing: there is no "neo-liberal agenda for global capital". Sorry to disappoint you. There's just a bunch of companies working independently of each other who happen to be going in roughly the same direction. There is no Great Evil Master Plan (TM).
"Myself when young did eagerly frequent / Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument / About it and about: but evermore / Came out by the same Door as in I went." -- Omar Khayyam
[ Parent ]

there is a conspiracy! its called the WTO/WEF/IMF (none / 0) (#35)
by kellan on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 01:12:30 AM EST

yannick, you'll probably never see this response unless you go back and look at your comments periodically (like i just did, because i'm procrastinating) but your last line is one of the silliest things i've heard in a long time.

there is a very explicit, very open, group of large transnationals working on the "Great Evil Master Plan", they get together a couple times a year and try to force government into succumbing to their latest schemes. WTO/IMF/WB/WEF/EU etc etc etc. you get the idea

also, its fairly naive in a society which has cheerfully embraced post-modernism and post-structuralism in our daily lives to assume that the explicit machinations of these companies is the only agenda at force. in the current system the transnationals are driven to particpate in the ever increasing race to the bottom.


[ Parent ]

The Irish Times (3.50 / 6) (#14)
by pb on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:07:26 PM EST

Did they do that intentionally? If so, they're very Swift. All I could think of after reading this was "A Modest Proposal".

...and then the poll option, well, I just had to vote for that. I mean, if you can't sell yourself, what can you sell? That's what they always tell people in those marketing classes: "Sell Yourself!"; what a great idea!
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
What's the point? (4.12 / 16) (#16)
by Ummon on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:15:40 PM EST

Why do we bother trying to force a 3rd world country to act like Europe or America?

Oh yeah, new customers. I forgot.

yeah, that would be awful ... (2.87 / 8) (#23)
by gregholmes on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 06:09:50 AM EST

...if even their "poor" had 2 TVs and 1.5 cars. Better to leave them be.

[ Parent ]
Bezos (2.62 / 8) (#17)
by Eloquence on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:17:14 PM EST

All poor countries should follow Mr. Bezos' advice. After all, he has pioneered the concept of making money out of nothing. If this were 1998, we would probably have a very promising IPO called Bangladesh.com by now.
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy · Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
Mark Malloch Brown's words (4.14 / 7) (#18)
by Refrag on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:19:25 PM EST

"IT, in contrast, was developed by the marketing people, so there's a reasonable chance that we'll hear what people actually want and then get it right."
What the hell is this guy smoking? IT was "developed" by the marketing people?!?

For those that haven't read the article, Brown is the administrator of the UN Development Program.


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches

expanding... (4.33 / 6) (#21)
by Refrag on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:41:56 PM EST

To expand on my earlier post. From what Brown is saying, it is quite obvious that they are approaching aid to 3rd world nations from a marketing standpoint and are largely interested in gaining returns on their investment. When did marketing people ever give people what they wanted? Marketing's job is to take something and make people want it. That is what I am afraid will happen when we give aid to 3rd world countries.

If we give these countries anything, it should be food first, agricultural technology and materials second (and possibly last). We shouldn't go about raising them as new consumers.

Brown is just trying to dress that up with his bullshit statement.


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches
[ Parent ]

Why not do both? (4.06 / 15) (#20)
by jabber on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 04:39:52 PM EST

(+1 BTW, great topic)

I've seen this argument come up every once in a while, and I always have to wonder, why not do both?

Why not provide people with what they need to survive, and with the necessary technical means to fend off the problems we've been battling for decades? Are these two goals mutually exclusive? Are they somehow 'turn based', where if one form of aid is given, the other must be deferred until 'next time'?

According to recent numbers, the US is home to 5% of the world's population, and responsible for 25% of the CO2 emissions. We're just now starting to get into the 'conservation' mind-set, and it will be a while (if ever) before we put that theory into practice. Can you imagine what would happen if all the Chinese and Indians, now living in what we consider utter poverty, started commuting to work, and working with 1Gh Athlons? The trade of expertise for resources is a promising solution.

Starving people need to be fed - suffering needs to be stopped, there's no disputing that, except through some twisted sophistry. Our standard of living is so much higher than theirs, that a relatively small sacrifice on our part will make a huge contribution for their benefit - arguing the moral rightness of this while people starve is deplorable. The nations which have already beaten a path to 'advanced' technology should have a policy in place, for sharing their 'lessons learned' with those who stand to benefit from them. What else can we do? Wait for their own nationals to invent electricity? Watch as they try to come up with vaccines for Polio and the Pox? I don't see the difference between sharing the latest medical/humanitarian aid and sharing the latest engineering advances. If we can give food and medicines then why not also give the knowledge needed for electric transmission and distribution infrastructures?

We (developed nations) have learned a great deal in the last century - and it is in our own best interest to share our experience. We know when rail transport works well, and when it doesn't. We know the long term costs of damming a river and of building homes on landfills.

We are not stewards of the world, and there is no "White Man's Burden", but we need to recognize that our learning curve has come at a price - not just for ourselves but for the world ecology. If we can minimize this being repeated, we should. If it benefits others as well as ourselves, well, what's wrong with that?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Wildy off topic, but related...... (none / 0) (#30)
by blixco on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 11:56:00 AM EST

I've always liked the idea of technology being used to supply the education for reform within an area. I do agree that *both* giving material and giving technology is the way to go: give 'em food, then help them learn how to farm within their environment using whatever technology helps best along the way. This only works in places that support agriculture....deserts are an engineering problem that I can't pretend to solve.

I once heard this idea, though, and it really appealed to me: the use of technology not only to help the poor, but to enable a revolution.

Imagine you have an area of the world that is fairly plant friendly....a jungle or forest area....and in it are people that need whatever humanitarian aid. Let's just say they live under an opressive government as well, one that is unfriendly to your Cause (whatever that cause is). One day Martha is working in the field (I'll use western names, feel free to substitute) and a plane flies overhead. It drops small packages of food, water, medical supplies, solar blankets, and a small device with a screen that speaks to Martha in her language, and shows pictographs that tell her how to hook the device up to a small solar collector. It gives her instructions for use, and has indexes that include links to information, like "How to grow your own food" and "How to help sick children" and "How to build your own shelter" and "How to arm yourself against your opressors" that are all geared strictly for her area. It talks to her in a soothing voice, using her name, slowly training her on it's use and abilities, downloading updates via cellular connections during the night, evolving over time....

What impact would this have on her? Would she chop the device to bits, using it as fuel? Sell it? Use the advice to enable her village? What if the devices could speak to each other, sharing information across short distances, carrying news and mail and information..... Would this be a revolution?

This would be, in my mind, ideal. A device that simply helps people stand on their own, take down their system of opression (bear with the jingoistic language for a bit) and begin to grow self-sufficient as a community. The questions: whose agenda would get pushed, and how would such a device work? Technically, it could be done with a rugged enough case, a decent processor, and good power management. The possibilities are pretty interesting.....

Not that it's realistic. But imagine this happening within *your* community. Say I start handing out web pads that I've purchased with my dot com bajillions, and I've programmed them with my own agenda. Small, entertaining devices that enable the homeless people on your block to not only become more self-sufficient, but bands them together, creates enclaves that are skilled and believe whatever the heck the box tells 'em. How safe would that make you feel? Is technology the right solution, or would you rather I gave 'em food?

The problem with the word "revolution" is that most people think backwards when they hear it. They think back in time, or they think of ideas connected to dead philosophers, or methods that are ancient and violent. This would be far more subtle, and far more effective, and infinitely more terrifying to the people in power.

The logistics, again, have proved to be too much to overcome so far. But let's see what happens.

The root of the problem has been isolated.
Yeah (none / 0) (#31)
by Rainy on Thu Dec 21, 2000 at 02:04:22 PM EST

As for electricity/phone lines: I don't know about africa/asia/south america, but in russia in my mid-size city about 1/10th houses had phone lines (that was about 5 years ago). Now perhaps half of them have it. All of them have electricity. I'd imagine it's the same (or better) in most of eastern europe. I don't think technology doesn't help the poor directly but it will create the oh-so-needed middle class that makes economy stable. This is what makes america work, and no amount of food you send to these countries will fix them - well, only temporarily. In fact, it might be that sending food is a bad idea, cause think about it, local farms are rather inefficient and cheap(or free) food from USA means they can't sell their own stuff. Of course it's hard to act on this assumption when people are dying of hunger.. So, in a nutshell, I think that technology doesn't help directly and immediately but in 10-20 years it *can* make a difference. Naturally, I don't know for sure - it's just a hunch, take it as such.
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
remote jobs (none / 0) (#36)
by datatap on Fri Jul 13, 2001 at 08:14:34 AM EST

Does monster.com have job offers available in 3rd world countries? Maybe technology can bootstrap the standard of living for people who might develop skills that are in need in other parts of the world?

Can technology help the poor? | 36 comments (34 topical, 2 editorial, 1 hidden)
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