Beth Kolko <http://bethkolko.com/index.php> is an Associate Professor of Technological Communication at the Department of Technical Communication at the University of Washington .
After dealing with verbal speech rhetoric in general and with communities in digital environments, she shifted her attention to the idea of diversity in technology, studying cultural technological transfer phenomena in developing countries. Her goal is analysing not only the difficulties of innovation in those countries, but mainly how these countries, when dealing with the larger quantity of information coming from communication networks, compensate for the lack of services, infrastructures and software thanks to innovative practices.
Her approach took the shape of the five-year Central Asia + Information and Communication Technologies project, funded by National Science Foundation for 1.23 million dollars. Through a wide range of methodologies, the project takes into consideration the profiles of use of new technologies by users who operates in environments with multilingualism and low literacy skills. In a more macro-social view, it sets the goal of studying the impact of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), within the limits of use and adjustment, in some countries of Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan , Tajikistan , and Uzbekistan . Latest developments of the project can be found on the blog CAICT ( http://depts.washington.edu/caict/blog/index.html ), while some results from the period 2006-2007 are available on the website.
The project is a cluster named Design for Digital Inclusion (DDI) ,which develops in two different thematic areas: the first, Mobile Social Software in Resource Constrained Environments , deals with the “social uses” of network integrated mobile phones in the remotest rural regions (we talk about MoSoSo, i.e. mobile social software), with a special attention on the telephone dissemination of information related to working resources and medical assistance.
The research modality is mainly that of interviews to experts in educational, medical and economic systems, analysing a prearranged sample of mobile regular users, selected during the elaboration phase of the project. The second thematic area, named Games and Developing Regions , analyses the youth cultures of videogames. If, on one side, the development of new transnational platforms and consoles contributes to the development of global use modalities, on the other acts as catalyst for innovations of use in the fruition of products, so that we could talk about a “support function” of videogames in technological development, still analysing everything within the actual infrastructural limits of those countries.
Kolko’s studies represent one of the most interesting application developments that Science and Technology Studies (STS) underwent in the last decade. It is no more enough to understand the “innovation potential” of communication technologies, but it is necessary to understand also its importance, its possible variations, and its alternative and unexpected uses; when the enthusiasm of global instantaneous communication will diminish, the social branches of science and communication will have to back up their theories with case studies.
Kolko, during the conference of futurologists PUSH,http://www.pushthefuture.org/HOME/tabid/36/Default.aspx>, mentioned some experiences in which technologies we see as habitual and not extremely innovative (text messages for example) can save interesting surprises in countries whose economic and financial indicators identify as developing.
A work in line with Kolko’s ideas is Rober Jensen’s, whose results are mentioned in the article “Mobile Phones and Economic Growth”, published The Economist www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm: community of Indian fishermen off the coast of Northern Kerala set the price of the catch, thanks to text messages, on the basis of the information related to the availability of that type of fish on the general market.
Or the bank account and money transfer experience through the MPesa Sim Card M-Pesa Sim Card
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2007/mar which make up for the heavy lack of local banks.
In my opinion, these are the actual dynamics that integrate science, technologies and social practices and thanks to which technoscience is supported through the effective participation of local communities.