• Symposium Question 1
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During six weeks of field work in Uganda, An Xiao Mina and I began to research a new approach to overcoming some of the economic and infrastructural obstacles to computer and Internet access in rural areas of Uganda. On December 10, 2012, we presented our in-progress research, entitled “Computers and Internet Access in Rural Areas of Uganda” at Art Center College of Design’s Graduate Symposium.

The Graduate Symposium was followed-up by a Work-In-Progress Show on December 15, 2012. An Xiao Mina and I exhibited a second iteration of BodaNet, visualizations of our emerging approach, and illustrated speculations of our potential next steps. This collaborative body of work evolved into “ICTs from the Ground Up.”

  • Arc of Services
  • Arc of Services Components
  • Arc of Services Component
  • Work-In-Progess Show
  • Upcycled in Oyam
  • Upcycled in Oyam Rural
  • Questions about reuse
  • Digital Media Salon
  • Tech and Church

The Context

As of 2007, the UN estimated there were one million people in Uganda accessing the Internet at least once a month. By 2011, that number had grown to more than 4.5 million, or 13% of the population.

Although this growth is highly concentrated in urban areas, existing social ties between urban and rural populations allow individuals in rural areas to hear about the Internet and what it might afford them.

Using Oyam, Uganda as our example, individuals travel 1-2 hours by bicycle to reach Aber Youth Center, the nearest location to access the Internet. Although there may be only three computers available, several people will occupy one computer, engaging in co-learning activities, checking their Facebook page, watching Nigerian comedies, or drawing using Microsoft Paint.

Content is also viewed as portable and transferrable. Individuals do bluetooth transfers or load up mini SD cards (for the mobile phones) with videos, photos, and articles to play back to their friends who weren’t able to make the long journey to the ICT center. However, because of the shortage of resources, inexperienced and timid users are often left out.

Rural communities hear about the Internet through urban influences, such as friends or family coming home to visit. Business owners in rural areas may become early adopters of technology in order to communicate with their supply chain. Individuals who move to urban areas invest in a mobile phone because of social influences or the desire for a certain lifestyle.

NGOs are also a dominant influence in introducing communities to computers. However, the introduction is often sudden, embodying the mentality ‘if we build it, they will come,’ as well as ‘if they need it, they will use it.’ In addition, content is pre-determined through a portal.

The Approach

My colleague An Xiao Mina and I designed an approach for assessing, training, and developing portable technology moments. Our approach intends to provide the opportunity for people to explore their curiosity towards computers and the Internet, as well as the benefits – and drawbacks – of new technologies, enabling communities to develop a more informed understanding of how computers and the Internet can affect their lives.

During the Symposium, the Arc of Services (which ultimately became a booklet of services through a second iteration) was displayed in pieces to convey its modularity and flexibility towards customization and change. Our approach provides various entry points for the community, customer, and entrepreneur, depending on their desired level of access, engagement, and investment.

For the Work-In-Progress Show, An and I continued with the cardboard aesthetic, mimicking the arrival of outside technologies and ideas by placing illustrated speculations in electronics shipping boxes.

The illustrated speculations focused on the following questions:

  1. How can we tailor computer services for specific communities and groups?
  2. What qualities would a social network include in order to integrate pre-existing social forms in Serere, Uganda?
  3. What model results from moving repair and repair workers to the center of our thinking about new media and technology?
  4. What forms of ownership, modularity, and innovation result when we focus more on repair and restoration?

Valuable feedback resulted from both the Symposium and Show through engagements with an interdisciplinary audience.

Pertinent Sources

Burrell, Jenna. Invisible Users: Youth in Internet Cafes in Urban Ghana (Acting with Technology). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Print.

De Silva, Harsha, Dimuthu Ratnadiwakara, and Ayesha Zainudeen. “Social Influence in Mobile Phone Adoption: Evidence from the Bottom of Pyramid in Emerging Asia.” Available at SSRN 1564091 (2009).

Dzokoto, Vivian and Elizabeth Appiah. “Making Sense of Mobile Money in Urban Ghana: Personal, Business, Social, and Financial Inclusion Prospects.” 4th Annual Conference of IMTFI 2012-2013 Researchers. University of California Student Center, Irvine. 5-6 December 2012. Conference.

Jackson, Steven. “Rethinking Repair.” Forthcoming.

Phillips, Kristin. “The Gender Regime of ‘Women’s Work’: A View from Tanzanian Internet Cafes.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 31:3/4. (2003): 76-93. Jstor. Web. 28 Nov 2012.

Ya’u, Yunusa Z.. “The New Imperialism & Africa in the Global Electronic Village.” Review of African Political Economy 31.99 (2004): 11-29. Jstor. Web. 28 Nov 2012. (additional Tumblr post)