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Information and Communication Technologies

Will Someone Find and Control the Master Switch of the Internet?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

A recent  (2010) book by Tim Wu titled The Master Switch: the Rise and Fall of Information Empires is a sweeping, industrial history of the succession of new media technologies that rose to prominence in America in the 20th century: radio, the telephone, television, film and, of course, the Internet. It is an American story with global ramifications because of the powerful global influence of American information empires.

Wu's story is both arresting and depressing.

Can Virtual Civil Societies Build Citizen Competence?

Sabina Panth's picture

The image of civil society as non government entities with concrete institutions, with office space, meeting halls and formal titles, is gradually shifting in this virtual age of online activism and social media.  Instead, these formal institutions are diffusing into loose networks, where, in place of human resources, software programs are doing much of the work.  In the words of journalist Charlie Beckett, these emerging entities are the “Virtual Civil Societies.” 

Yes, The Revolution Will Be Televised. Now What?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In a media landscape saturated with images of tweeting revolutionaries and blogging dissidents, it's easier than ever to assume a causal relationship between the spread of technology and political revolution. But take a closer look, and the issue begins to look a lot more complex.

An informative and timely new essay by Marc Lynch, an associate professor at George Washington University and prolific commentator on Arab media and political issues, deftly sums up the main arguments, contradictions and knowledge gaps surrounding the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the phenomena collectively referred to as "the Arab Spring." Entitled "After Egypt: The Limits and Promise of Online Challenges to the Authoritarian Arab State," (subscription may be required), the piece implicitly argues for abandoning the usual "optimist/pessimist" trope that plagues such discussions, favoring instead a more nuanced and complex perspective on the impact of ICT in authoritarian states. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, I agree - see this previous post.)

Post-Conflict Justice and ICT

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

We've discussed here and in related papers (such as Towards a New Model and The Missing Link) the role that media and communication (including all forms of information and communication technologies, or ICT) can play in pre-, mid- and post-conflict situations. Too often, donors think of media and communication as an adjunct to their main reconstruction and peacebuilding work, something with which to publicize their activities. I've advocated strongly in the past for assigning a more significant role to the field of media and communication in conflict, urging donors to consider it as a substantive, technical area that needs to be systematically incorporated into donor plannning rather than treated as an offshoot of public relations.

How Scalable Web 2.0 is Changing the World of Disaster Management

Tanya Gupta's picture

Disaster management 2.0: scalable human connections fired by high technology

Scalability, virtual communities and Web 2.0 have changed the world of disaster response.  The most successful and disruptive inventions of modern times owe much of their success to scalability.  Although people always had the ability to read books, it was only with the invention of the printing press that it became possible for millions of people to do so.  Web 2.0 and social media make the ability to connect with people scalable.  Scalable human connections combined with open source software and platforms, and unprecedented computing power, results in human-machine synergy also being scaled up. This human-machine synergy results in disruptive technology innovations.  Such disruptive innovations have most recently been seen in the area of humanitarian support to disaster and conflict affected countries.  USB drives were an innovation that disrupted the market for floppy disks.  Although they are not likely to go the way of the floppy disk, the world of traditional disaster relief organizations with proprietary systems, closed data sets and bureaucracy have been up-ended by the disruptive human-machine synergies of Web 2.0 and crowd-sourced humanitarian volunteer organizations.

Engaging Communities to Track the Constituency Budget

Sabina Panth's picture

Philip Thigo and his partner, John Kipchumbah, were a part of the Infonet Project in Kenya that was hosted by the World Social Forum in 2007.  The project proposed the use of technology to create an open information and communication infrastructure to enable communities to build social capital for democratic actions.  The duo were concerned that no marked changes had occurred in the poverty rate in Kenya, despite the apparent economic progress in the country.  The technical skills they acquired from Infonet prompted them to conceive the idea of a Budget Tracking Tool that would connect communities directly with the national development agenda, without the need for a third party or civil society organizations working on their behalf.

CommGAP Launches "Accountability Through Public Opinion"

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

CommGAP is delighted to announce the publication of its third edited volume, "Accountability Through Public Opinion: From Inertia to Public Action." The book is edited by CommGAP's Program Head Sina Odugbemi and Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Authors from development practice and academia discuss in 28 chapters how citizens can hold their governments accountable, and how genuine demand for accountability can be created.

The idea for the book was born at a CommGAP workshop in 2007 in Paris on "Generating Genuine Demand with Social Accountability Mechanisms." A few years later, we proudly present a compilation of essays that are relevant for current events in the Middle East and in North Africa as much as for any efforts to strengthen citizen's agency vis a vis their governments.

The Ficha Limpa (Clean Record) Campaign

Sabina Panth's picture

As is the case in many countries of the world, it was not uncommon for candidates running for political office in Brazil to have a criminal record.  The Economist magazine has reported that, at one point, nearly twenty five percent of sitting members of Congress in the country faced criminal charges in the Supreme Court or were under investigation. Most of the crimes involved either violating campaign-finance laws or stealing public money through corruption. The existing law allowed politicians to be tried by the Court, but many cases lapsed before they were heard. Even when the candidates were convicted, the law allowed them to emerge right back, to stand in the next election. 

Live-Blogs, Live-Streams, Fevered Passions

Sina Odugbemi's picture

These days, there is simply no avoiding the news. In a season of spectacular events coming one on top of the other -- revolutions, tsunamis, slayings of master-terrorists -- it is clearer than ever that we now have unparalleled means to follow what is going on, the very latest developments, even minute by minute updates. You no longer have to wait for the evening news or the hourly news on radio. There are now live-blogs and live-streams of visual images  around major events.  Your computer, even at work, can bring you the very latest news. Click on the Aljazeera live-stream, for instance, and you have a court-side seat in the arena of the Arab Spring. Tweets are updating global audiences on all kinds of issues. If you have a 3G or 4G phone, you can follow the news on the move in living color. And if you have a tablet device...ha, you are in news junkie heaven!

Without a doubt, we are the first humans to run the risk of  drowning in a tempest of news. This has at least three interesting consequences.

Media Effects on Foreign Policy

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Recent events in North Africa have intensified speculations about the role of traditional mass media as well as communication technologies in shaping political events and cultures across the world. Media influence on policy, foreign or domestic, has been the subject of some research, but is not generally taken seriously in the relevant disciplines. We have discussed on this blog before that the lack of systematic research and acknowledgement of media influence on policymaking may be due to the indirect nature of this effect. Media do not necessarily influence policymakers directly, but may work through public opinion by shaping what people know and believe about foreign politics. Public opinion, embodied in predominant political views or in election results, can have considerable influence on policymakers that need approval from the electorate.

I recently had the honor of contributing a book review on media influence on foreign policymaking to the foreign policy journal IP Global Edition, published by the German Council on Foreign Relations. I discussed three relevant books: "Unreliable Sources" by John Simpson, "The Al Jazeera Effect" by Philip Seib, and Bella Mody's analysis of "The Geopolitics of Representation in Foreign News." You can find the full review here.

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