With events like the Arab Spring and OccupyWallStreet, it has almost become a cliche to talk about the empowering potential of technology. Such events have emerged largely thanks to our interconnected technology – most notably things like Facebook and Twitter.
The PBS NewsHour recently offered a segment about technology’s potential in Rio de Janeiro. There social entrepreneur Rodrigo Baggio has created the Center for the Democratization of Information Technology (CDI), which is focused on developing computer literacy and infrastructure in the slums of Rio. As Baggio says (through a translator):
Technology and technological inclusion allows for an impact that’s greater than just learning how to use a computer and being able to have access to the Internet. The big impact is that it empowers low-income communities because it teaches them to utilize technology to understand their reality in a better way and identify the challenges that they face.
He then discusses an example:
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Baggio’s favorite example is this video posted on YouTube by a group of young people.
RODRIGO BAGGIO (through translator): These kids went out with cell phones and digital cameras and they were interviewing community members and taking pictures in order to better understand their reality, the challenges that they face in the community. They chose an example of a photo of rats. One of the kids had taken a photo of rats.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They traced the rat problem to garbage not properly disposed of or collected. Then they spread word through handmade and computer-generated fliers. They sent this video to the mayor, posted it on YouTube, and Baggio says all the publicity got a response from city hall that resulted in better trash services.
RODRIGO BAGGIO (through translator): I mean, this is a story, you know, 10 kids from a class that used technology, use the Internet to discover a problem, and find a solution for it and change their reality as a result.
This is a great example of the empowering potential of today’s technology; it shows how a social action can emerge using only computers, cell phones, the internet…and a little creativity.
There are those who view power as a top-down phenomena; they argue that the way to improve things is to cater to the rich and powerful and then count on the benefits to “trickle down.” As this case illustrates, those familiar with the power of technology and social media are likely to respond that such views are increasingly out of date in today’s world.