One of the provided readings this week gave an interesting point of view of “Why Social Media In South Africa Will Fail” and this peaked my interest. The author Mario Olckers argues the point that there is still a very unequal distribution of access to the tools and technology needed to use and benefit from social media. The post also stated that when talking about social media in South Africa you are referring to a select minority of privileged individuals.
I do agree that South Africa is emerging from a severe state of political unrest and that the black population is still proportionately disadvantaged than its white counterparts some 15 years after the end of apartheid. However, being a borderline optimist I was inspired to go deeper and find out if there are any programs in South Africa working to bridge the gap between these groups.
My research came across a joint project by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and CSIR Communications called The Digital Doorway. This initiative is modeled off of the Hole-In-The-Wall program in India created by Dr. Sugata Mitra to support his hypothesis that Minimally Invasive Education (MIE) is a viable form of education.
This program is a great example of social media at its most basic level. Here is how it works:
The Digital Doorway places computer kiosks equipped with learning programs and Internet access in rural neighborhoods of South Africa where community members can learn through experimentation. The vision of the project is to create a sustainable network of Digital Doorways in every rural community in the country. The belief is that through improved computer literacy all South Africans can be included in the information society.
The computers operate under a wireless mesh network and enable communities in remote settlements to share information between and among themselves using various applications such as chat programs, e-mail or voice-over IP.
In my opinion, this is what social media is about, the peer-to-peer conversation that creates a wealth of shared knowledge. Although the members of these rural communities may not be blogging, tweeting, or MX-ing IT just yet, they are connecting to one another and having a conversation.
I think it would be wise for any organization, NGO, NPO or Corporation to support The Digital Doorway program because it is connecting with a target that has previously been overlooked. I am not saying they should do this for commercial interests alone but more for societal improvement. Public Health agencies could place updated information about health concerns currently facing the population (HIV/Aids, Cancer, domestic violence).
Social media is unique and powerful because it gives anyone with an internet connection the opportunity to have a voice by writing a blog, joining a social network or tweeting every. single. detail. of their daily life:
The point is they have a platform as well as the opportunity to seek information (relatively speaking, we know this freedom varies around the world). When I think about The Digital Doorway I think of the infamous quote “If you build it they will come”, from the film A Filed of Dreams. You have got to build the resources in order to understand the potential of bringing this platform to rural communities.
I think that this program is a positive first step towards empowering a disconnected population and giving them a chance to have a dialogue with the rest of the world. ^JT