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Working the Internet with a Social Vision
This document has been written in a collective way (see the chapter
entitled "process") to serve as a point of reference to
various activities related to the Mistica3 and Olistica projects, which
are both coordinated by FUNREDES, the Networks and Development
More specifically, it is meant to be a medium
for an alternative way of
assessing the social impact of ICT in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This assessment will be inspired by the "Isticometrics"
principles5, which establish that indicators need to be developed
processes. In this way, it is possible to link the priority developments
as established by communities, and to elaborate the indicators in
agreement with the social relevance of the phenomena to which they are
tied. This relevance cannot indeed be left to the preconceptions held by
elites or dominant protagonists. The perspective lies in the objective
that societies, activists, and especially the people who ought to enjoy
their benefits, participate in the formulation process of public policies.
Using a kind of vocabulary which can be understood by
people who are not experts in the field, this document hence tries to
shape the vision of the Internet as a tool for social development. Since
1999, a group of people (scholars as well as grassroots activists) have been conceptualizing
this vision through virtual fora. The completion of this document should
go beyond the mentioned projects, and it may represent a contribution
from our region to the international, on-going debate on Information
The Mistica project has already produced two
collective documents, on the same topic, although from different
Doc-SAM: the "Letter to Emilio or the Oneiric
Relation of the Samaná Meeting"6 (5/99) focuses, in both
pedagogical and multimedia ways, on the description of participative
democracy processes and on the spirit which has resulted from it among
the Mistica community. This document is extensive and easy to read; it
is useful to those who wish to join the Mistica VC (virtual community)
or to understand the dynamics of the project.
Doc-CV: "ICT in Latin America and the
Caribbean in the Globalization Context"7 (4/99) focuses on the
vision the Mistica VC has of the connection between ICT and society.
This document is comparatively long and has been written by and for
specialists of the field. In a way, the present document updates the
Doc-CV, while trying to make it accessible to a larger audience.
We shall add to this list a document that has
not been written collectively, and is not part of the achievements of
the Mistica project; however, it has resulted from extensive
consultations, and to a great extent it reflects the debates within the
For? Thinking about ITC for the Development of LAC"8, (3/01)
by Ricardo Gómez and Juliana Martínez. It is a large and pedagogical
document, intended for a non-specialist as well as specialist audience.
Moreover, there exists other regional documents
with a similar perspective, which come directly or indirectly from
collective reflection in other frameworks:
"Letter to Aunt
Ofelia: Seven Proposals for Equitable Development with the Use of
NICT"99 (4/02) by Ricardo Gómez
and Benjamín Casadiego: it stems from a collective creative session
that took place during the workshop on Experiences Sharing on Social
Appropriation of NICT for Development in Latin America and the
Caribbean, organized by ITDG10 , in Cajamarca, Peru (3/02).
What For? Lessons on Community Telecentres in Latin America and the
Caribbean"11 (9/02) by Ricardo Gómez, Karin Delgadillo and Klaus Stroll: this
stems from the experience of the project Somos@Telecentros12.
These various documents, including the present
one, represent an original and
regional production by Latin America and the Caribbean on issues
related to the Information Society.
The process of elaborating the present document in a
collective way was formalized by
Kemly Camacho, from the Accesso Foundation13, as follows:
- she wrote an initial proposal which tried to gather
the consensual contents of the debates which had been going on in the
last months within the Mistica Virtual Community (VC);
- this initial proposal was submitted to discussion
within the coordination group of the Olistica project14;
- a second version15 was produced, integrating the
comments of the coordination group;
- following this, the document was submitted to
discussion16 within the Mistica VC, with a discussion agenda running on
for several weeks;
- finally, the comments which had been gathered were
integrated into that document, in order to produce the last but one
- this version, then, was reviewed by the
coordination group and was finalized by the person in charge of the
project, Daniel Pimienta, before being handed in to the VC, in order to
enable the members to determinate whether their comments had been
properly integrated, and to issue the final document.
The text which has been produced through this process
reflects, in a generally consensual way, and in broad outline, the views
of the Mistica participants; however, it must be clear that the document
has not been formally endorsed by each of the Mistica VC members.
The final comments, which broaden the perspectives of
this document, are gathered in the thread of messages that begins with:
The Mistica Virtual Community, composed of men and
women from Latin America and the Caribbean, has developed for some
time17 a reflection on topics such as digital divide, the information
and knowledge society, and the social impact of the Internet. Under the
general heading of "A Social Vision of the Internet", we have
developed a collective reflection, as well as initiated and promoted
various actions. These actions aim at improving our understanding of the
consequences and impact of this technology when it is part of our
societies, and at promoting a social appropriation of the Internet. We,
who make these proposals, share principles, the gist of which will now
.We do not
see the network of networks only
as a technological platform. Rather, we consider it as a new space of
interaction between human beings, which we have created for our own
This place is changing through the very interaction
we are developing. Hence we consider that the technology must be seen,
analyzed, managed, studied and used from a social point of view, trying
to understand the new types of relations that are being created within
the place, the new social processes that are being generated, the
cultural evolutions that occur, the new worldviews that are being built,
the new economic relations that are being established.
The Internet should not be understood only as the
network of networks, from a technological point of view, i.e. as
interconnected computers. The Internet should rather be seen as the
network of human networks that are related to each other, where
computers are nothing more than the mediating19 technological platform.
Clealy, since the network of human networks rests on
a technological platform of interrelated computers, it works with novel
and particular characteristics. Because the relations are mediated
through the technological platform, both form and contents of
communication are altered.
On the other hand, we hold that it is important not
to consider the Internet only as a tool whose goal would be to implement
new forms of commercial exchanges —which is what now defines the
priorities of the private sector, what impels and supports it. The
Internet should rather be used to boost structures as well as
economical, political and social relations which offer alternatives to
traditional patterns. Should it be driven only by the market, the
Internet would reproduce and increase existing social inequalities.
Civil society is to play a crucial part in the
defining the new types of relations and social constructions that ought
to be developed from the integration of information and communication
technologies. This is not only a stake for governments and private
In order to analyze
processes, carry on projects and elaborate proposals related to the
technology, we use the following categories: equal opportunities of
access, sensible use, and social appropriation of the Internet. We believe
that it is important to simultaneously consider those three aspects in
order to achieve socially positive results as the Internet continues to
be incorporated into our countries.
We understand equal
opportunities of access as the opportunity for everyone to have
access to the benefits of the Internet. Here we include both the access
to the very technology and the development of technical and
methodological capacities enabling people to make effective use of the
whole potential that is thus made available. The obstacles to equal
opportunities of access are not merely technical and financial, they are
also educational, linguistic and cultural.
In this respect, we are also concerned with the
search for alternative connections and free or inexpensive training, as
well as for politicies, decisionmaking and governance of the Internet.
We are interested in getting involved in the definition of the policies
related to domains, costs of space in the Internet and legal matters
that have to do with technology, in such a way that our visions and
interests would be taken into account.
We see a difference between the mere use and the sensible use of the technological
tool. We prompt actions which promote a type of use that relates the
needs of the various social groups to the search for alternative
solutions, aiming to fulfil these needs through the use of the Internet.
We emphasize the social appropriation of the Internet,
so that the tool will acquire meaning in the daily life of social groups
and become a tool allowing new knowledge to be generated. This will make
it possible for people to transform the concrete framework of their
We, who study, investigate, evaluate and prompt
actions related to the Internet with a social vision, explicitly claim that we mean to use the technology as a tool aiming at
the transformation of societies. We then want to discover and
promote ways in order to contribute to building novel societies led by
common values, such as fairer relations, resulting in less
discrimination and more equal opportunities.
Also, from each of our specificities, we emphasize
our commitment to promoting actions that will bring all Internet-related
opportunities to the least privileged groups in our societies.
We do not believe
that the Internet by itself can produce changes that will transform the
social and economic conditions of the less privileged groups in our
societies and in the world. We do not contemplate a straightforward
process; we do not believe in an automatic relation or in one of cause
and effect between the Internet and social development.
In order to take advantage of the Internet as a tool
for social development, some processes should exist, that would permit
the communities, organizations and countries to make the technology
their own, in such a way that it would become a meaningful part of their
daily lives. In other words, the Internet does mean something about the
opportunity to improve living conditions, that it can be something close
and relevant to the transformation of existing social, economic, and
We insist on changing
the meaning of the actions related to the Internet. At present they give
priority to the installation of connections and equipment, and then
wonder what use they can be put to. We call for a previous cooperative
reflection, in order to determine what the main problems and needs are,
how the Internet can contribute to solving problems and fulfilling
needs, and then determine if, how and where, equipment and connections
should be installed.
The Internet is an open frame, which we can still
take advantage of —whether we are organizations, communities,
individuals or countries, as long as we aim at improving the conditions
of living of the less-favored people.
However, we are also aware of the fact that
everything depends on the actions which are to be soon undertaken, and
that the possibilities to take advantage of the Internet for social
transformation, may either shrink or expand.
In this respect, the Internet must respond to a strategy of communication and information that will be adopted by us, who desire an improvement of the societies in which we live.
The so-called digital divide originates in the social
divide. First of all, we consider that the digital divide does not exist
in itself, but that it is a consequence of social divides. That is to
say, the pre-existing social, economic, political, differences, as well
as the distribution of power and resources, do create it.
The digital divide is
not to be confronted only with interconnected computers. In order
to face the digital divide we need not only to make use of computers,
but also to develop the necessary capacities among the groups so that
they can take advantage of the technological tool in order to strengthen
political, social and economic development. This means, besides being
able to access connected computers, to improve one’s personal
self-esteem, one’s community organization, one’s educational level,
one’s capacities of interaction with other people and groups, one’s
level of empowerment in order to make proposals, among other things. To
reduce the digital divide means that the groups we work with have the
capacity to take advantage of the technology in order to improve their
own living and environmental conditions.
In sum, the digital
divide should not be measured only in terms of infrastructure (for
instance, the number of on-line computers in a given place). We shall
evaluate the capacity that we have built in relation with the
information process as well as with the relations that currently exist
on the Internet regarding the beneficial knowledge that is likely to
improve our living conditions and our mutual support relations.
digital divide is not an individual matter, but a collective one. For this
reason, we do not agree with those who present the way of facing the
digital divide from an individual point of view. The digital divide is
generally evaluated in terms of the ratio between a given population and
the number of connected computers. We want to promote the idea of a more
collective option. In this way we hold that the benefits coming from the
Internet do not originate in the very connection, but in the effects
generated by the connection. That is to say, we will be able to speak of
a reduction of the digital divide if the benefits of the tool reach a
whole community, even if this community has a small number of connected
computers or even no computer at all. When we talk about facing the
digital divide, we speak of communities, organizations or families who
benefit from the Internet although they are not directly connected, we
do not speak of a one-to-one relation, from the individual to the
For instance, in a
given community, a group of youngsters can access the Internet from
their school (not from their community) and thus discover, through the
tool, a new way of purifying the river water into drinkable water. They
discuss it with adults, adapt the information to community conditions,
carry out a similar project which is relevant to local needs and to
their own worldview, and eventually manage to produce drinkable water
from the river. If this serves as an example and is followed by similar
actions, then the benefits of the Internet will be brought to the whole
community. We will speak of actions that permit to reduce the digital
divide in the community, in spite of the very fact that only a group of
youngsters have access to the Internet and that there does not exist any
computer with Internet access within the community.
We hold that the digital divide should be evaluated
in terms of the benefits of the Internet that reach (or do not reach)
the populations; we also hold that this is not merely achieved through a
technical connection. The processes are obviously made easier whenever
connections are available in the community, but a mere connection
definitely does not make a difference.
Consequently, we encourage actions that reduce the
digital divide by bringing the benefits of the Internet to the
populations from a community point of view, and not only actions that
aim at connecting every individual to the Internet. We hold that efforts
and resources available to reduce the digital divide should not focus on
hardware, but in processes at the community, organization and nation
levels; these processes should bring the benefits of the technology to
the main part of the population.
differences do exist on the Internet. We do not all have the same
opportunities to access what is available on the network, the same
opportunities to disseminate what we produce, nor do we have the same
technological resources and equipments to take advantage of the tool.
These differences are related to technology costs and knowledge.
We are concerned about this trend, even though we
believe that many open spaces still exist. We work to prompt actions
which reduce the danger that the Internet might become a tool handled
mainly by the economic resources of the people who participate in it.
We seek to have those to whom our societies grant
fewer opportunities be listened to, find in the tool both a space to
speak with their own voices, to interact and to organize with other
people, and a place where they will find such information as will help
them to find solutions and to fulfil needs.
The Internet is above
all a tool which is able to create and to reinforce human networks. Its
use makes it possible to create a new social network that we need to
understand and to make our own.
The Internet is a tool that can facilitate, improve,
and ease the processes that are occurring in the countries, communities,
organizations and regions, which aim at improving the living conditions
of the bulk of the population.
Consequently, we prompt actions that tend to
integrate the Internet into current social practices and organizational
initiatives, improve the living conditions of the less privileged, and
promote the development of extensive cooperative processes.
We hold that the
Internet is an endless source of information, but that is does not
provide us with knowledge. We ourselves do produce knowledge, in individual or collective forms,
through assimilating information, reflecting on it, adaptating it to our
own experiences, needs, contexts, and worldviews, discussing it with
other people, either face to face or in a virtual way.
Generating knowledge implies that a "thinking
process" should be developed. The essence of this is definitely
human. The Internet helps us throughout the process and makes it easier,
because it allows us to find similar experiences, lessons learned, new
ideas about similar issues, because it brings us contributions, because
we thus expand our visions, or because we discuss extensively with
individuals and groups from many parts of the world. However, the process through which knowledge
is generated does take place outside the Internet.
We hold that it is necessary to overcome the myth according to which information is knowledge, and its consequences according to which the very fact of being connected to the Internet allows to have more knowledge.
Generating knowledge through the use of the Internet
as an information and communication tool, is not a simple process. It
requires discovering new abilities, new capacities, variations in the
work processes, as well as new educational profiles that will make it
possible for us to better take advantage of the tool in order to
generate knowledge. If we do not carry out these kinds of reflections, and do not implement
changes, we face the risk of having a great deal of information at hand,
but of being paralyzed by the unmanageable quantity of data.
Building knowledge that offers new solutions to
needs, improves the ways things are done, and presents alternatives,
will be the driving force behind the transformation of our societies.
However, learning how to do this is not a spontaneous process. We
therefore try to initiate research and studies that emphasize both
discovering these new ways, and promoting the concept in international
agencies, local and national governments, organizations and communities.
Discovering these new ways of doing things, should be
done in connection with social activists, so as to allow the building
process to take into account various worldviews, and to stimulate the
process through which the Internet as a technological tool is
The point is that the
Internet sould become a useful tool so that the socially less privileged
can generate new knowledge that will allow them to improve their living
conditions and transform the societies in which they live.
Similarly, when we talk about the impact of the
Internet we try to understand how the Internet has transformed the daily
lives of individuals in their personal affairs, their jobs, in their
social relationships, at the level of the general organization or of the
When we talk about valuing the impact we try to understand to what extent the Internet is transforming the realities we live, as components of social entities, both at the group and at the personal levels. We do not emphasize such realities as the number of computers, connection speed, the quantity of messages, etc. These figures may allow us to understand the context in which we live. However we try to go beyond appearance to get to the substance, to what will remain of this transformation.
We want to make sure that a new information and
knowledge is being built. We are careful not to be repeating a slogan.
We believe that all societies have had their own ways of generating
knowledge and that this has to do with the cultural context.
We carefully observe
the ways in which social, political and economic structures are being
currently altered, in order to make sure that the existing structures
are not strenghtened and that the evolution is a substantial one.
Moreover, we do not consider that the Internet is
currently the only factor which makes societies evolve. We adopt a
critical and integral look, through which we can analyze the numerous
factors and dynamics that constantly participate in their evolutions.
We hold that the Internet can also have negative
effects in social, organizational, and personal life. What circulates
through the medium often has more to do with quantity than with quality.
The Internet may generate work overload, saturation, limitation in
personal contacts, feelings of immediacy, diminished opportunities for
reading, thinking and enjoyment.
Also, it is perfectly possible to live without the
Internet in spite of all the contextual pressures, that incite
individuals, organizations and institutions to be connected. Be that as
it may, this decision has to be taken with full knowledge of the facts,
that is to say, after having had a chance to know the dynamics implied
by the Internet.
In this framework, we would like to summarize our
position, and to propose a series of questions, in order to analyze the
various proposals and actions that are developing in relation to the
introduction of the Internet into our countries and communities.
1. On equal
opportunity of access
a. Is priority given to the least favored groups?
b. Is technical and methodological training
integrated as part of the connectivity?
c. Is access given to all Internet resources so that
people can choose what suits them? Or is access restricted to certain
d. Do the processes through which Internet access is
provided (whether already under development or to be developed) promote
collective access to the technological tool? In what sense do these
proposals and actions promote the reduction of the digital divide in
terms of connected communities, organizations, and families?
2. On sensible use
a. In what way do the developing (or to be developed)
uses of the Internet make it possible to build less discriminatory
relations, that promote equal opportunities?
b. In what way do the developing (or to be developed)
uses of the Internet promote the transformation of existing economic,
political and social relations?
c. To what extent do the uses of the Internet that
are promoted take part in existing social practices and do not represent
enforced or undesirable changes?
d. To what extent do the uses of the Internet that
are promoted strengthen the participative processes among the groups we
3. On social
a. In what way do the current (or to be developed)
actions encourage the beneficiary populations to give the Internet a
proper, autochthonous and genuine meaning, that respond to their daily
b. To what extent do the current (or to be developed)
actions encourage the people among whom projects are carried out to
participate in the definition and the managing of what is going to be
achieved through the use of the Internet?
c. To what extent do the actions that are being
initiated through the Internet support communitary, organizational and
national processes which promote an evolution toward fairer, more equal
and more sustainable societies?
d. To what extent do the actions that are being
initiated promote processes that allow to bring the benefits of the
Internet to the less privileged, especially to the ones who do not have
access to the tool?
4. On generating new
a. To what extent do the uses of the Internet that
are being initiated solve concrete needs of the people whom we work
b. To what extent do the uses of the Internet that
are being initiated contribute to the search for alternatives to the
problems identified by the groups we work with?
c. To what extent do the uses of the actions that are
being initiated, contribute to improving the conditions of the less
d. To what extent do the uses of the Internet that
are being initiated allow to expand the available information within
communities so that people may take decisions with more appropriate
e. To what extent are actions initiated in order to
improve the ways relevant information is selected, organized, and
interpreted in relation with the daily life of the groups we work with?
f. In what way do promoted actions prompt structural
changes among peoples and organizations, so that they can develop
innovating processes which allow to integrate the benefits of the
Internet into their daily lives?
5. On the defense of
protected spaces on the Internet and the dissemination
a. How do the actions that are promoted boost the
production of local contents?
b. What level of participation do the people with
whom we work have in the development of local contents?
c. To what extent do actions which are promoted allow
to disseminate and promote local contents?
d. In what way is the Internet promoted as a space of
expression for the less favored and for popular cultures?
6. On the social
change produced by the Internet
a. In what way do the actions which are promoted for
the development of the Internet prompt elements such as development of
personal and collective self-esteem, community organization, improvement
of educational standards, capacities of interaction between people,
empowerment, or development of the capacity to make proposals from the
people with whom the work is done?
b. In what way are actions for the development of the
Internet transforming the daily lives of the peoples, from an
individual, occupational, interpersonal or citizen viewpoint?
c. What level of probability is there that the
transformations produced by the actions that are carried out, have a
follow-up in the future?
17 Since Feb. 1999, when discussions in the Mistica
VC were launched.
18 "Internet" is a communication protocol
(TCP-IP), which allows computers to communicate with each other.
"The Internet" is a network which allows people to communicate
and inform themselves through the use of computers and protocols. For
this reason we prefer using the phrase "the Internet," which
refers to human networks, above the technological stratum.
19 And quite often, due to limitations in the
interface, "immediating"… (in the sense of making
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