Steeping out of our comfort zone is frightening. We are so used to our routines and habits, or we think we are having such a good time just the way we are, that anything that challenges us or threatens to change any of our activities, expose us to the unknown, which could be for better or worse. This is even harder to face when the change implies not just a change of activities, but a change of paradigm, a transformation in our way of thinking and understanding of things.
It seems to me that this was the underline feeling during the debates occurring in the Second Digital Culture Week* in Campinas. The theme of this year’s week was: “Can the Internet subvert the order?”, which provoked from every one of the participants, to reflect on our current order and what changes, if any, the Internet is causing. Most of the participants agreed that YES, Internet is changing the playfield, but what kind of change is this, is it good or bad, was very much on dispute. This divergence was what caused most of the discomfort. World vision, objectives, personal believes and realities, made everyone understand the question differently. For instance, it was possible to see how some were solely focused on software, others solely on infrastructure, while others were trying to approach the challenge, of including more people into the digital world, with more holistic projects with a focus not only on software and infrastructure but on education and social support too. The encounter of these different perspectives left the room with a feeling that only few people are already playing to win in this new environment. It was possible to see some frustrated looks on some participants who were facing a very challenging context ahead in their task of bringing Digital Culture to the most needed.
So, what were the challenges identified:
- There is a very wise private sector, which is constantly studying the Internet and finding ways to increase their profit. While NGOs or the government are trying to find ways to motivate people to participate more in online social services, such as long distance education, companies have already find out ways to engage with their costumers, and have been doing it now for several years already. Then a question rises: Should we learn from the private sector? Is this not selling-out our values and commitments? What else can we do without repeating the tricks of the market place?
- There is still a strong believe that just access may help individuals, so there are many initiatives around offering access to hardware, software and connectivity, competing with initiatives that offer education and social support too, making it hard to the latter to find economical support for their activities. In an environment used to numbers, how to explain that teaching few people how to properly use the internet to improve their lives is much better than teaching a lot of people how to turn on and off a computer? Also, in a society which has promoted so much some internet tools, such as Facebook, how to reach people to attend to courses that will teach them much more, when what the only thing they want is to used Facebook as their friends do? How to make them realise much more its possible and that they have the potential to learn about it?
- This last challenge motivated some activists to start discussing more in detail what was digital inclusion, and they concluded that more than simple access was needed, that they needed to motivate the individuals to produce as much as to consume information on the Internet, that is why here in Brazil, they now are talking about promoting Digital Culture. But this is a challenge too. There is not a consensus on the term or in what is needed to encourage more Digital Culture citizens. ARede Magazine* stated that a change of paradigm is needed here. There is a need to shift from digital literacy to a qualified inclusion. This magazine also indicates that some changes are already taking place, but considering the whole country, this shift is long to be seen. How to help initiatives that are on their way? They may even offer interesting courses, but, if users don’t apply, what to do?
- Another challenge is one we are more used to: lack of good infrastructure, hardware, software and connectivity. Governmental initiatives are implementing more free telecentres, NGOs are establishing their projects in places that need connectivity, and of course, paid access can also be found in many places, but generally, there are still places which, due to lack demand, specially internet, access is unavailable. The main change in this scenario comes in the focus on the Internet. Access to hardware is now easier, you can buy a computer and take it anywhere, electricity is no longer a problem, but access to the Internet is still difficult in many places. If this is still a problem, and requires big investments, how to equilibrate this need with the need of training coursed? How to establish priorities?
But not all was discomfort and frustration. The solely fact that there are people discussing about this topics and evaluating how to proceed give us hope to believe that the change in paradigm will come. What needs to be assured is that the enthusiasm does not runs out, making people settled with what we have now, instead of creating a different future (although unknown). As it was stated during the debates, the quality of this future is on our own hands. Is on the hands of all users. For the first time in history, a mass communication tool is on the hands of the final users without any intermediaries. The intermediaries have been choosing for us what is news and what we should receive as information. But now, with the web 2.0, which allows users to also be producers, we can interact with others and produce relevant content for our communities. Ideas can be shared online and movements of people can be motivated. We are living a moment in history that may change how we understand information and communication, and events like this week may cause distress and anxiety, because all seems too complicated and the outcome unknown. But… is this precisely what gives me hope we are going in the right direction, because I believe a better future is possible, and if what we are doing now is not working, then we have to try different ways. Events like this week serve us as starting points of further and deeper discussions, to realise where we need to invest more, and to know others that are fighting with us, to make allies to widen our impact.
As I once heard… it is good to face a situation of discomfort or frustration, because it helps and motivates you to realise that your path is not going the right way, only then you can change directions, and improve your live.
* About this event: After some years of discussing topics about digital inclusion, various organizations working on this topic in Campinas, decided to formalize their discussions in a group called “Campinas Digital Culture Forum”. And, to make their discussions involve more people, they organized the “Digital Cultural Week” which takes place every year, offering, to the general public for free, debates, seminars, workshops and cultural event. This year was their second event, and I wish they keep growing and making it better in the years to come.
For more info: http://culturadigitalcampinas.org.br
** AREDE, 2013, Apresentação, 4o Anuário ARede de Inclusão Digital 2012-2013, Projetos da Sociedade Civil. Bit social: São Paulo, pp. 10-14.
For more info: http://www.arede.inf.br