While I appreciate the wisdom of remarks on both sides of this issue,
I remain unable to decide one way or another. Can we look at the issues
a little more deeply.
Let me put aside the technical side of the question (i.e., let's assume
that eventually there could be solar powered inexpensive computers linked
to LEO satellites). Instead I'd like to solicite comments on the following
1. If world trends indicate that the perpetuation of traditional social
bonds is unlikely, and new social relations transcending the local com-
munity must be constructed in their place, then it seems a significant
investment in rural education and communications would be mandatory.
If computer mediated communications in the long run promises the most
cost effective method for education and telecommunications, then wouldn't
it make sense to make this a long range goal now?
2. In the past of other societies, it has been long considered a major
objective to subsidize the extension of mail and 'phone services to rural
areas. If digital communications promises cheaper, higher quality, and
more reliable phone service, and the transmission of images more cheaply
than traditional mail and telephone service in advanced economies, why
wouldn't that be desirable for rural Africa? I recall there was a lot
of scepticism about the advantage or relevance of phone service in my
own society when it was first introduced, but in retrospect it has
proven to be of fundamental importance for social wellbeing and progress.
3. There is probably no practical way to bring education into rural
areas in many parts of Africa without computer mediated distance lear-
ning. As is often pointed out, distance learning offers a far greater
opportunity to reconcile traditional local culture and cosmopolitan
world culture than the traditional metropolitan-based school system,
which because it tends to be unilateral ends by displacing traditional
culture altogether. The computer might seen irrelevant today in most
rural settings, but history is a process, and planning must take that
fact into account. The rural situation must change one way or another
in today's world, and without planing for techniques that create
opportunities for dialog in shapping that future so that rural societies
and traditional values acquire a stake in that future, I suspect the
eventual outcome for rural society and traditional culture is simply
extinction. This is the usual pattern in world history; computer
mediated communications might offer an alternative.
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