MS launches 'unlimited potential' campaign
The big picture on the 'next five billion'
However, we in the West must also make sure that we do not attempt to force our own regional viewpoints or global aims onto other cultures. In many cases, an individual within a technologically underserved environment will not be looking as to how they can move to become an entrepreneur, a large cog in a global concern, or a skilled economic migrant. For a subsistence farmer, it may well be to move from subsistence to having spare food. Meeting the basic requirements means that the farmer becomes more self-sufficient, while ensuring that there is spare food can enable the farmer to barter or trade the food for other services.
Technology can make this all happen - for example, through the use of image-based training in better farming practices, in animal husbandry and food storage, to communication and collaboration with more remote communities as to what services or goods can be swapped for the excess food. That this circle of communication may only be a matter of a few miles can well be an extension of opportunity well beyond the previous horizons of the farmer.
Again, when we look at many of these communities the parents save as much money as possible in order to send their children to a larger centre in order to gain better education and, nominally, better jobs. Many of these children find that the cultural shock of moving from a small community into a large conurbation means that their educational potential cannot be realised and then the jobs hoped for are not available. With their parents or local community having invested a lot of money in them many of these children find it difficult to return to the community.
Technology can help here. Rather than children having to go to the educational establishment, education can take place within the community, through the use of suitable local dialect or highly visual tools and data and visual communication and collaboration tools, such as video and teleconferencing.
In this case, education can be far more targeted at task-based issues, rather than at a curriculum. For example, should a community identify that having a member of the community being able to communicate in Spanish would be useful this can be more rapidly covered through a remote course where the person learning is still being a contributory member of the community than it would by removing that person from the community for the duration of the course.
Technology also provides capability for the communities to work together for the greater good. If we take it as read that parents want something better for their children than they had themselves, the mindset of sending them away to the Big City has to be broken. However, if that child can be taught how to deal with tourists or how to run a small local business or how to trade community goods with more distant communities not only do we have a generation of people who are making a "better" deal of their environment than their parents but the whole community gains and retains a high level of cohesion.
To create a globally sustainable technologically empowered environment we have to provide the technology that enables the users to do what they want, not what we want them to do. We need to foster community and local sustainability and minimise the growth of the number of super-cities in the world that are massive net consumers of resources from water and food to forests and human resources.
Microsoft's approach has many of these aspects built into it but Microsoft will have to work carefully with governments, non-governmental organisations, charities and commercial bodies to ensure that the vision is not subverted for short-term, local gains. We in the West will have to play our part, supporting plans for economically sustainable local and regional programmes that maintain small-scale communities and agronomies.
Copyright © 2007, Quocirca
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