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SYNTHESIS OF VC DISCUSSIONS
The Virtual Community, edited by Nora Galeano under the supervision of Luis German Rodriguez
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The following document is a result of the evolution of the MISTICA project from its beginning. This means that our preparations for the Samaná meeting coincide with the end of the virtual discussion phase. This paper will serve as a work document of this meeting. While our first document was DOC-INO, proposed by FPH (Foundation Léopold Mayer pour Progrès de l'Humanité), it was DOC-COORD that served as a base for the discussion in our virtual community.
Once the period of discussion had terminated, we elaborated this synthesis of what was debated, respecting different contributions that arrived during the process. The consents and the divergences are highlighted, along with the lacking concepts and methodologies that were detected.
The result is this document that we will call DOC-VC. It is based on the structure of DOC-COORD, as the virtual community organized its arguments according to its scheme.
It is important to highlight that during this process the VC revised initially proposed axes. Judging from the contributions, these were accepted. Here, they are incorporated in this text.
This document is now to be discussed in the following phase of the project by members of our community. The validity of what is exposed here only as synthesis will be revised on our new session organized specifically for this purpose. Moreover, information and communication technologies (ICT) will allow us to try out group work in order to integrate the contributions of participants at a distance (PAD) with those of who will be on the meeting. This new session is, as a matter of fact, the Samaná Meeting.
In general, there was agreement that a discussion on how to use ICT in socially useful ways in Latin America and the Caribbean and how to generate a socially positive impact should take into account the general tendencies of the globalization process. This means that our work needs to take advantage of opportunity globalization offers. By doing this, ICT will be able to improve the living conditions of excluded populations in Latin American and Caribbean, mainly by creating valuable options for the significant number of excluded inhabitants in the region and proposing at the same time alternative models of development that respect the diversity, promote the justice, are in harmony with the nature and allow sustainable human development.
At this point, it was necessary to arrive to an operational concept of globalization.
Several people have given economic definitions of globalization, arguing that it is mainly an economic process, deriving from the exhaustion of the capitalist structures of production in the industrial era. As a consequence, it is necessary to define it as such, since this allows understanding the development of technology in a more appropriate way. These positions also claimed that this process is accompanied - and supported - by an ideological stance.
Other interpretations were proposed as well, according to which the globalization is not only limited to the economic aspects: it is wider process that embraces other social dimensions. The main argument of this position was that an exclusively economic vision of the process does not contribute to elaboration of alternative models of development that would modify the dominant - dominated relationship imposed by the economic conception.
In other contributions, the globalization was explained as convergence among different aspects (economic, political, and cultural). The North - South relationship is here dynamic and not determined by any factor; the effects of the natural and social sciences of the North in the region are not assumed as negative factor, but as a system of innovations. Moreover, the new proposals of planning, politics and actions on the developmental agenda invite to try more participative and equal models in the political and the environmental sphere.
It was also affirmed that the globalization bears the imposition of cultural and political models of dominant countries, to which we should propose an antagonistic model, based on the evaluation of diversities and free circulation.
Furthermore, a pragmatic definition of globalization was also presented as a mixture of:
a) The contemporary perception of the reality no longer according to which it is a sum of autarchic states, but a system of mercantile, cultural and political relationships subordinated to multiple influences
b) A series of new and, in good measure, unprecedented, opportunities and challenges. And as a consequence of the globalization are new geopolitical maps on which - again - the biggest attempt to gain more (in terms of influence, power, control over raw materials and work forces, etc.)
Other, more optimistic positions described the globalization as the vision of a world without borders where possibilities of a peaceful, free and not censored communication exist and where it is possible to listen to multiple points of view and interpretations of the reality on the world scale.
The attention was especially drawn on the harmful effects that globalization has had on indicators of health and unemployment. Paradoxically, the same globalization and, specifically, the development of the knowledge society, open opportunities for mass access to the medicine and could allow creation of preventive medicine networks.
There was general agreement that the globalization is an irreversible reality that implies not only threats but also opportunities. Moreover, the general impression was that we were still on time to propose politics that would satisfy necessities and interests of our people and that would bring to positive social impact, develop strategies of empowerment to reaffirm the pattern of the society that we want. It is in this sense this debate was incorporated in MISTICA.
The growth of the use of ICT, in the last years, in Latin America and the Caribbean, has been impressive and it continues with the same tendency. Although there is still a lot to make in terms of basic connection as well as in terms of creation of real virtual communities. The connectivity and surge in number of users is generally used as an indicator of the advance of the globalization. It was acknowledged that it is an important component of globalization. However, it has also been recognized that it is necessary to incorporate or to create alternative indicators that would reproduce this quite complex concept more faithfully.
Big inequalities exist among countries as well as inside the same countries, in terms of access possibilities to ICT. Several sectors have made proposals regarding ICT and developed relationships with them, as the women and human rights organizations, microenterprises, public health research organizations, etc. This, however, does not assure that ICT have always been good and effective tools to improve living and working conditions of people or organizations that use them.
As instruments, ICT, as well as their development and implementation, are related to various interests (political, economic, and social) and as a consequence are not neutral. Therefore, it is a permanent challenge for the civil society that is searching for an alternative model of development not only to develop its own experiences and instruments (for which the flexibility of ICT offers certain advantages), but also to lobby for its interest and to exercise pressure in the spheres of decision.
Technologies developed in the North (we speak of the North as of the center of power and decision making) were created in order to respond to the necessities of the developed North. Therefore, it is necessary to dedicate special attention to how Latin America and Caribbean are assimilating these technologies. What interests do they serve? Which are the alternatives they open? Can popular sectors of the region use them for the construction of an equitable development model? How can we, in the context of the globalization, use ICT to contribute to the development of the countries with fewer resources?
Moreover, we also discussed the question if ICT can contribute with solutions or if they are only tools, instruments not able to solve social problems on their own. We discussed if there can be ICT-based solutions to social problems. The conclusion was that this idea is a fundamental topic, and therefore a research in this area is necessary. Finally, we seem to agree that the information and the communication are today the strategic factors to face any social problem. However, while ICT, as a tool can be an important factor inside a strategy, they can not be its basis. ICT can, therefore, reinforce or improve the outlined solutions and existent initiatives, even bring to life those that, for lack of appropriate communication channels, could never come to life. They are flexible tools appropriate to practically any social use (even of diverse and opposed sign) but they do not induce social changes if not associated with deep transformations in the institutional culture. And this does not necessarily imply an association with politics.
This section arises because in the course of the discussion some of the participants noticed lacks in the coordination proposal. The first one is relative to the employment of the word "impact" and the second one concerns the lack of appropriate evaluation methodologies to qualify as positive or negative the effect the use of ICT can have in the social structures. In the discussion, some people outlined that they preferred to speak of a "socially positive ICT use" instead of "socially positive impact", as they think that impact does not refer to a social process, but to something that falls from above as a meteorite. In addition, the word impact, in spite of being the most broadly adopted one in this context, is associated with the notion of the first, colliding effect, and does not refer to the condition that goes beyond that first encounter.
In opposition to this, other positions sustained that social impact refers rather to the results - positive or negative and to the changes induced by the social use of ICT. The social impact of ICT is not to be reduced to modalities of the technology use, or to possibilities of technology problem solving: it rather refers to changes that occur when people or organizations integrate this new form of communication in their every day life. How has their health, their educational level, their relationships, their capacity of political incidence, their managerial abilities and their access to resources changed thanks to the use of ICT? (As an agreement has not been reached on this argument, in this document we will continue to use "social impact", as it is the form that has been used from the beginning, although its understanding can be positive or negative according to different criteria.
Several interventions argued that if ICT are instruments that induce a positive social impact, we should first examine these experiences where ICT were used. Which are, and which not, the successful experiences in this sense? Which have been the critical elements for their success? It is necessary to systematize these experiences, in order to learn from them and to extract the elements that could strengthen similar initiatives. We need to know how to achieve that organizations of the civil society, and other key players in the development field make a strategic use of ICT in order to achieve a bigger positive impact in their work.
To achieve this, it is urgently required to have methodologies (designed indicators and tools for gathering selected information) that allow to measure and to predict ICT impact on how organizations develop their internal capacities and to obtain perspectives of their work with others organizations on sector scale in order to achieve results at level of the society.
There is enough information that we can use, but it needs to be systematized. This will allow us to know which are the most favorable conditions to facilitate ICT appropriation and the successive value creation.
In this topic - which was one of those most debated and with the biggest number of participants - the discussion revolved around the following points:
1. Development of a New Educational Paradigm Supported by ICT
We had some disagreements regarding the role of ICT in the change of educational paradigm.
On one hand, it was sustained that the use of ICT necessarily involves a paradigm shift that allows a student to become an active person, a producer of knowledge, an individual with trust in himself or herself that will offer solutions and that will participate in decision making. The student is an actor, not a simple audience. In this context the role of the educator becomes that of facilitator, organizer of educationally significant experiences and producer of challenges and projects that induce the pupil to produce knowledge. It means that the pupil should create atmospheres for learning where the students will not only build their knowledge but also build their own capacity to learn.
Another position sustains that ICT incorporation in the education does not necessarily imply a paradigm shift. ICT are tools that can be used in the frame of a new paradigm but can also reinforce traditional educational paradigms. ICT themselves do not determine the contents of the teaching-learning process. The technology can be used to generate a new education model where the pupil becomes trained to think, but also to reinforce traditional memory-based and repetitive models. These technologies can be a formidable instrument in a teaching model that aims to teach how to understand and investigate. But they can also imply an involvement because, as it often happens, children use these technologies to repeat what the others have said, as a simple result of an incursion in the cyberspace and therefore without even memorizing it.
The change of the role of the teacher into a facilitator is not something that occurs simply because of the growing links between ICT and education. The question is: are teachers prepared
to modify their role inside the classroom?
It was also pointed out that ICT is a half suitable media for mass education and for training in public and private environments.
2. The Adaptation of Technology to the Necessities of Latin America and the Caribbean
Several comments have sustained that ICT have been incorporated in an acritical way, transmitting a knowledge that does not respond to the necessities and situations of the South. It is therefore necessary to promote a revision of the design of programs, courses and methodologies in order to allow integration of ICT that would respond to the cultural characteristics and necessities of Latin America and the Caribbean.
It was also pointed out that the necessity exists to examine the influence that developmental models of International Organisations have in the organization and operation of the higher education institutions.
3. The Relationship Between Face-to-Face and Virtual Education
Some participants agreed that virtual education cannot completely substitute face-to-face education, since the virtual, or distance education operativity depends on the maturity of the students and on the subjects. Some sustained that it is not possible to substitute completely the teacher in the primary and secondary education (before the students have passed adolescence). The new communication technologies, and especially the Internet, can serve as learning support on all the levels, but up to now it does not seem that they can substitute the teacher.
As far as university teaching is concerned, the Internet can be good for the diffusion of very specific knowledge. However, there are disciplines where learning "in situ" seems indispensable. That is also the case also with the practical knowledge that cannot be transmitted and memorized at distance.
Someone, however, considered that in the future the face-to-face education would be substituted by the distance education, thanks to the Internet.
Apart from the problem of the education on distance, there is also the problem of the development of the necessary technology, with special focus on the education in the rural areas. Some of the crucial questions here are: what is to be gained and what is to be lost with education that is not face-to-face? The majority of the analyses underline positive, not negative aspects. Can these technologies eliminate precious experiences of face-to-face communication? How can a virtual teacher transmit enthusiasm?
4. The Significance of Virtual Universities
In relation to this topic some dangers and problems, as well as various doubts, were pointed out.
It was said that the projects of virtual universities in Spanish implement models that transmit a lot of information, but that do not promote at the same time the critical analysis of this information. On the other hand, you also expressed your fears about the virtual universities: do ICT help them only to generate revenues by assisting more students with the same personnel? We need to be careful how we develop these universities; moreover, if we want to be sure of the positive social impact, we should also have a methodology that verifies the respective yield indicators.
At this point, it was pointed out that it is necessary to distinguish between the university at a distance and the virtual university. You proposed that the differentiation could be based on the availability of electricity, telephones and PCs.
In this context, several questions arouse how to distribute the new technologies to the rural populations where there is no electricity or telephone? How is this discussion relevant for them?
5. The Accessibility to Technology for the Education
There was a general agreement that two types of factors hinder the access to the technologies in education: economic and psychological.
The economic reasons are linked to the low wages of teachers that are not able to buy PCs and software. Moreover, the educational centers have also reduced possibilities to acquire them.
On the other hand, psychological factors deal with the concern of teachers for the formal aspects of the teaching, and consequent lack of time and psychological energy to consider multimedia technologies. Also the fact that often they have more than one job (linked to the low wages) drains energy necessary for considering the challenge that these technologies represent.
Another interesting idea was presented: installing machines ("hardware") not only in the schools but also in other communal centers, like sociocultural clubs, so that the children that are not included in the formal educational system (a high percentage in Latin America and the Caribbean) have nevertheless access to ICT.
Several people agreed that participation is a necessary condition to assure the existence of democratic systems, and that this participation can be reinforced through the access to ICT. The democratization of access to ICT should then be a primary action.
However, it was added that democratization will not occur simply because the Web is filled with messages full of democratic content, nor will the civic participation be automatically deepened if we guarantee the universal access to the net. Both are important and necessary steps, but alone they do not solve anything. Both steps will assure a minimum level of equity, but they will also outline new challenges.
A good use of ICT should focus upon the invention of new ways of collective action and incidence, for which ICT constitute new and valuable tools. But these technologies should not be considered only as tools that create or sustain organs of power and democratic participation. This would mean to deal only with the formal aspects of the democracy, as it guarantees that citizens occupy spaces of the free expression created by ICT. Certainly, ICT will not create a civic participation that does not exist in reality, although they will contribute to it as they are tools that offer a different to approach the topic.
On the relationship between democracy and connectivity, different - and opposing - positions were expressed. One the one hand, it was sustained that there is no evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between democracy and connectivity. On the other hand, it was asserted that a causal relationship exists between these two when democracy means "the power to publish information" and "the possibility of an free speech and of interaction". Therefore, the access should be sufficiently wide to achieve the exchange of messages. Finally, some sustained that the democratization of the access is more important than the connectivity-democracy relationship.
Moreover, the democratization of the communication has been considered as the fundamental element of democracy. In the case of ICT and the cyberspace, particular challenges have already emerged in the current constellation, and we are now defining the rules of the game of these new spaces of communication. In order to guarantee a culture of democracy, it is necessary to examine how ICT impact the South and the excluded sectors: this is one of the challenges for the democratic future of our continent. It was concluded that a united action on international scale would be necessary and an important contribution for the creation of the negotiation capacity. In this sense, an interesting position has emerged about these new spaces of power which it would be necessary to conquer in order to assure the democracy: the cyberspace constitutes a new dimension of the space, where not only information is stored, but where also human interactions occur and where the hegemonies, social behaviors, etc. are established. This dimension is not detached from other dimensions of the human activity, but it is rather influenced by it and impacts it at the same time. In the future, the management of the power in the cyberspace will be similar to the management of the power in the physical territories. The inclusion or exclusion is not only a question of having access to the technology and to the information. If the cyberspace is becoming strategic and if it revolutionizes the traditional spaces of the communication, then we should worry about the democracy in the cyberspace. Who will have presence, visibility and voice in the spaces of power? How can the excluded sectors develop their capacity of expression? How can they elaborate strategies of diffusion and intervention designed by this media?
One of the proposed ways to enable the excluded sectors to take advantage of the necessary information and to use the most recent ICT elements, is the combination of ICT with media that cover a wider area, mainly rural areas and areas where these new tools are not directly present (radio, television, local newspapers).
ICT offer new interaction possibilities without automatically implying a bigger democratization. Apart from these opportunities, they also present risks of deepening disparities and the existent power relationships in the world.
It was concluded that in order to be able to impact the spheres of politics that allow enlarging the access, it is necessary to work with decision-making groups or the governments. Three concrete strategies outlined were:
The main challenge is how to achieve that excluded populations become able to appropriate themselves of information and communication tools so that they can be integrated in the global processes in order to improve their local conditions, and to actively participate in this new virtual democracy.
At the start of the debate concerning this topic, there was consensus that the changing environment imposes to the organizations necessity to adapt quickly to new conditions. Therefore, they need to change all aspects of their organizational structures, reducing hierarchical levels and boosting flexibility and capacity to learn. This will allow them to introduce new strategies that not only allow them to passively adapt, but also to promote changes in their environment.
In this sense, and within this subject matter, it was pointed out that it is crucial for Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as for all those that are in the periphery of the economic system, to learn how to use ICT in favor of their own development processes and for their local interests. How to transform the technology into a self-determination tool? How to avoid that the globalization conquers our markets if not by developing endogenous strategies of participation and competition?
In the knowledge society, ICT become a fundamental tool for achieving competitive advantages on the corporate level. The new technologies of information, as Castells sustains, are not only tools to apply, but also processes to develop. Can we support small companies and basic producers, and develop processes that allow them to achieve competitive advantages?
It was supported that, on the corporate level, ICT open the possibility for better integration of chains of inputs, producers, distributors and merchants. This necessarily requires the construction of communication spaces in which information is shared by enterprises. ICT could allow the integration of this chain, so that the producers can directly market their products.
Moreover, you pointed out that ICT can give consumers a bigger power, as they can interact directly with the producer without intermediaries.
On the other hand, one person commented that the new requirements of flexibility make companies implement more and more work schemes that discharge permanent work forces and recruit temporary ones which cover specific necessities of production. These changes in the job world imply more independent workers or unemployment. It is here that ICT can acquire significance as tools that certain workers could use, for example, to work, or even form virtual cooperatives of teleworkers that would offer their services through electronic means. Some experiences of this type already exist in Latin America and the Caribbean and it would be interesting to evaluate their success and their viability.
From what is stated above, a great question is raised: how to use ICT to improve the administrative, productive and marketing capacities of small organizations and of the base communities in front of the global organizations?
We need studies on the successful experiences of ICT use in the small and medium companies of Latin America and the Caribbean. This can help to create work methodologies that could support other organizations of this type.
At the beginning of the discussion the virtual community debated upon the topic of the representation of women in language. For this, two methods were proposed: the first proposed to add the os/as termination to the entire generic masculine, while the second proposed to use the @ symbol as a form of establishing a generic name that would be different from the masculine. There were several comments upon the "annoyance" of using the ‘at’-sign and pronunciation difficulties, as well as practical problems that arise with its use (for example, in the last versions of Word where the program automatically assumes that it is an e-mail address). Clearly, it was also pointed out how complicated it is to write using the os/as termination, but, apparently, this option presented less practical problems and was therefore the one that was adopted in this document. But, it is necessary to highlight that there was agreement upon the necessity of using some form that would allow overcoming sexist practices in the language.
It was also mentioned that, in order to achieve the equitable participation of women and men in the spheres of decision that configure the future of the cyberspace, it is necessary to incorporate the gender analysis in the considerations upon ICT. It requires contemplation of, on one hand, equal participation of women and, on the other hand, the development of political contributions with gender focus.
As for the language, the biggest challenge is to know how to adapt ICT to the diversity of languages existing in Latin America and the Caribbean. Also, we had considerations regarding colonization of our languages by English, as the introduction of technologies created in the North force us to look for new forms of writing, (for example anho instead año etc.), as these some characters of the Spanish alphabet were not considered at the moment of the creation of these technologies. TV, radio and the Internet intervene much more in the transformation of the language that the editors of dictionaries which have been traditionally imposing standards.
It was also remarked that English is the dominant language in all the electronic media and that is the case of PC programs and of Internet pages as well. These tools in English can be used only by the very small part of the Latin American population that speaks English as a second language. It is therefore a negative contribution to the democratization of ICT access for the majority of population. In addition, a great part of the content of this information is generated in another cultural context and consequently responds to necessities different from those of our region.
But the topic of the language in Latin America and the Caribbean is more complex, as many languages exist here: Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Aymara, Quechua, Zapoteco, and many other indigenous languages. It is also important to notice that some of these languages don't have the scripture and that the significant percentage of population of the region is illiterate. This makes us think about the necessity of the development of technology that would overcome the illiteracy and that would incorporate indigenous languages in ICT.
But besides the adaptation of ICT to the linguistic diversity of our region, the VC also underlined the necessity of adaptation to the cultural characteristics of the populations of the region. It was thought that for this objective we could reexamine the lessons learned from the indigenous experience in connection with ICT, for example, those that solve the relative barrier of the illiteracy or the orality of our cultures and the multimedia usage. This idea was supported by the possibility of developing vocal interfaces for the indigenous languages. That is not only a consequence of the high level of illiteracy, but also of cultural norms.
It was emphasized that the necessity to outline technological solutions that allow incorporation and integration of cultural and linguistics diversity of the region becomes obvious.
From these considerations, it is necessary to create an organization complementary to the work of automatic translation, which is not always perfect. The human networks should be created for the translation of programs and information (Web pages, multimedia material, etc.) in several languages. Much of English production is good and the challenge is to translate it to the language and the context of culturally different regions. Without this translation, there will not be ICT assimilation but ICT imposition. This assimilation can only be accomplished through agreements and alliances between the place of information production, and the place where we want it to be assimilated. EMEC is one of the possible solutions proposed to solve linguistic problems.
On the other hand, recapturing the idea of the Macrothesaurus, we can look for the tools that can exist in several languages. The Gutenberg project, for example, compiles works of the literature almost exclusively in English (both original and translations).
But, besides the challenge of the preservation of identities, and of respecting the existent cultural characteristics, ICT involve as well a change in the communication culture and information, as these technologies are incorporated in the everyday life. A part of this change can be facilitated if we work on the adaptation of ICT to our culture and on the creation of virtual communities' methodologies that allow incorporating them in an effective way.
As part of this cultural adaptation, the topic of the change in the rhythms and times of the communication was discussed as an example. Electronic communication sometimes demands our immediate reaction that is not always possible. In the mail or mailing lists, for example, the identification and the respect of the rhythms of the other are essential, as well as the role of the moderator who is in charge of controlling that the information production does not overflow and, from time to time, of summarizing it for a better assimilation. The respect of rhythms means to make the distinction between the important and the urgent thing. Not everything urgent is important, nor is an important thing (although essential) always urgent. We should learn how to manage this distinction, and how to maintain a fluid and respectful, and not hysterical and fast virtual communication. This is a necessary cultural adaptation to the use of ICT.
The telemedicina was outlined as an important area of ICT application in health, if used for the creation of dynamic nets of patients, doctors and health institutions aiming to preventative work. Regarding this concept, one member noticed that it is necessary to distinguish among tele-health and tele-medicine. It is necessary to understand the tele-health as a space to promote the understanding of the health like process, while the health is a result.
It was considered important not to introduce ICT in the health environment as a quick fix or as an isolated solution: it is more important to insert them inside what has been called the bio-psico-social focus, or integral or holistic medicine context. In this context, it was pointed out that we should also consider cultural aspects, in particular those of the indigenous cultures. It is necessary to highlight that this holistic conception of the health is present in these cultures.
Possible work topics related with ICT in the health sector were suggested: ICT and the health promotion, ICT and the community health, the tele-health in the tele-centers, ICT and the fast training ("just-in-time training") for health professionals, ICT and politics of health, ICT and the transparency and responsibility.
On the other hand, we underlined the efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean that have been concentrated on the virtual communities dealing with the topic of the coordination and incidence in public health politics.
One participant highlighted the direct effects of the globalization on the health, pointing out that to a large extent these are negative if we consider epidemic indicators on the global level. The relationship between the global unemployment and the increase of tuberculosis, hypertension, malnutrition, depression and anxiety was also pointed out.
However, it was also pointed out that the globalization, the creation of this global society of knowledge, with its networks of information and communication, would open opportunities for widespread access to the technological advances in medicine. This could allow creation of networks in preventive medicine.
Finally, the problem of side effects of ICT use was discussed, for example the health problems of people that spend a lot of time in front of a computer (lesions for repetitive efforts, problems of sight, as well as effects on the mental health, derived from the exposure to an enormous quantity of information).
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Latest modification: 15/06/2000