The ways in which we envision and talk about the internet matter. This is especially the case in the context of plans and projects to use the internet for human development, and at a time when charismatic Silicon Valley champions of new technologies are popularising narratives about its impact. This is a point that Charlotte Smart, Jonathan Donner, and I strongly make in a new paper that was just accepted to the next ICTD2016 conference.
Smart, C., Donner, J. and Graham M. 2016. “Connecting the world from the sky: Spatial discourses around Internet access in the developing world.” Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2909609.2909659
You can download a pre-print of the paper at the link above, check it out at the conference in Michigan this summer, and read a bit more about it the abstract below.
This paper examines the discourses around emerging Internet connectivity solutions for rural and resource-constrained populations in the developing world. It draws primarily on interviews undertaken with 26 experts within the Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICTD) field, as well as on institutional explanatory and publicity materials put forward by several industry actors. We identify a sustained disconnect between different conceptions of how technology alters or bridges space—spatial imaginaries. Institutions use narratives that assume technologies eradicate or collapse distance, and thus drive transformative socioeconomic change. By contrast, expert accounts underscore the socially embedded nature of technologically mediated relations and non-infrastructural barriers to connectivity. The paper draws attention to the ways that these spatial ideas are used to justify the development of new infrastructures to extend Internet access in the developing world. The paper identifies a need for continued attention to spatial imaginaries in ICTD, not only as a guiding frame for critical research, but also as a means to improve collaboration between research and industrial practice.