[governance] Fundamentally broken design of society

Lee McKnight LMcKnigh at syr.edu
Mon Aug 13 00:39:11 EDT 2007


Well I haven;t been around for 10,000 years, but this list discussion is definitely deja vu all over again for me * yes my grey hairs are showing : (  But with them I offer some perspective.

The telecom & devt discussion began in earnest at world bank level say 25 years ago, but had no impact on their own internal priorities for more than a decade - the infodev program and the like got going much later and only really offers up pocket change by Bank standards. (Though of course they're much better than nothing). Going back further in history there was the radio & devt and then tv & devt discussions and academic analyses of the 50s & 60s, at times accompanied by $$ from one or another source like the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Germany, or the CIA winning hearts and minds wherever (NOT! ; ). Ok, let's not get sidetracked:

 ict & devt got on the global agenda 13 years ago, with Gore's '94 'global information infrastructure' speech at an ITU meeting in Buenos Aires, and moved from there to being a topic at a G7 summit I think in 95; note neither Gore nor G7 offered up any serious $$ but rather prescriptive advice for national policies to enable nations and firms to develop infrastructure.   But along the way governments got the point that ICT might be a prerequisite/necessary correlary for development to take place/national competitiveness to be maintained, hence all the national handwringing these days about where nations rank in the broadband league tables kept by the OECD.

OK, so now what? Well, it's still the same story, ict $$ will come largely from private investors because governments may be corrupt but are not stupid; that is, businesses will offer governments $$ for the chance to sell telecom/ICT services, because there is money to be made.  So we may tip a cap to Gore for pointing this out to governments in developing countries who wished to get on the 90s Internet badnwagon - that is first they should get out of the way so businesses and individuals could do what they wanted to do, which all in all was reasonable advice I'd say.  

To apply the lessons of my summary history to the current discussion, the issue is less why don't governments give more support, since I doubt they ever will offer much more; but rather why don;t governments get out of our way so we can a) develop our own tools and services as Norbert discusses and b) maybe, try to make money selling those tools (admit it some of you are thinking that way but aren't talking about it on this list : ).  

So to conclude, the difference in ICTs, is that while society may be fundamentally broken, there might be money made while fixing (some parts of it) through ICTs/the Internet.  And sharing resources towards those ends through the net can serve a lot of people's altrusitic and self-interests. Meaning: don;t hold your breath waiting for public $$, do it yourself.


Prof. Lee W. McKnight
School of Information Studies
Syracuse University
+1-315-278-4392 mobile

>>> dan at musicunbound.com 8/12/2007 3:51 PM >>>

Well, I was by no means suggesting that we stop funding other direct,
substantive support where it is effective.  Simply that ICT should be
somewhere in the policy mix at meaningful levels of attention, especially
as it has a strong potential to synergize with other substantive policy

The question is not "Why fund substantive projects?" -- it is obvious why
we should.

The question, rather, is "Why not fund ICT efforts?" -- I can see no
compelling reason why we should not include ICT in the mix, especially
given that the investment is bound to increase the value of other
supportive investments.

What is "fundamentally broken" about society, inter alia, is that we take
apart synergistic packages of benefits and try to trade them off against
one another when in fact we are generally better off when we address the
full range together.

Your hyper-extreme case of "everybody dying of malaria" is a straw horse.
I can easily counter with "if everybody lives but they are oppressed by
authoritarian governance because of a failure of ICT policy" are they (we)
better off?

Balance in all things.  ICT policy deserves to be in the balance along with
other substantive policies, if for no other reason than the ineliminably
critical role of the Fourth Estate in democratic public governance.

ICT issues are highly political, because they *do* have a strong political
impact these days.  The fact that there is such controversy and passion
surrounding these issues suggests in and of itself that we ought to pay
attention to them at the highest political levels.  The "powers that be"
care about them for very good reasons.  The rest of us ought to care too,
before the plutocracy cements its control for good.

Let's be clear here:  This is a raw power struggle, no more/no less.  If we
fail to show up at the table or on the battlefield, then we lose, plain and


PS -- I am of course arguing for the "ought" position, not making any
argument for "will" or "how".  That remains to be discovered, and we
struggle with that proposition every day.  But one thing that motivates me
is that, until proven impossible, the "ought" ought to be sought.  It is
far too early to be fatalistic about what can or cannot be accomplished,
"realism" notwithstanding.  Not everything that appears "unrealistic" is
impossible to accomplish.  The specific path of human history is rife with
improbable occurrences, and taken as a whole the actual development of
history represents a minuscule probability when viewed from the standpoint
of the past (let's say, from 10,000 years ago, assuming you do believe that
there *was* a "10,000 years ago" ... not everyone does).

We live in highly fractal times, and common predictions of what is possible
or probable are (or at least should be) rife with doubt and caveats.

At 4:25 PM -0700 8/11/07, David Goldstein wrote:
>Hi Dan,
>Your example of a paternalistic funder, such as the USA, is only one
>example. Europe appears to be moving forwards and being much better in its
>ability to fund the developing world. But, still it's not perfect. But
>then, it's probable it will never be perfect.
>And where does the first world give its money? Does it give to targetted
>programmes, or to governments. The latter has been an abject failure in
>most cases. The Economist
>recently had an interesting article. It gave examples of successful
>funding of water filtration plants. Funding for AIDS prevention and
>medicines for those with AIDS, and malaria, have been very successful.
>The article gives an example of a success story in Africa - Mali. Mali is
>a success story, making agriculture and infrastructure a priority. And of
>course, telecommunications can be included in infrastructure. But if
>there's no roads it's difficult to provide telecommunications, even
>wireless. Nigeria on the other hand is riddled with corruption. Its
>leaders appear to have only a passing interest in their people. Nigeria
>has the potential to be one of the world's richest countries, but its
>wealth is squandered. So Mali has funders flocking to give it money. And
>from what I can tell, Mali is one of the few shining lights in Africa.
>When funders have the choice of funding the projects I have mentioned,
>I've no doubt most will not choose telecommunications. I imagine most will
>see their role in other projects. But again, engaging with foundations, or
>even people such as Jeffrey Sachs, on how to get telecommunications on the
>agenda could only be a step forward. Going off funding/supporting projects
>willy nilly is a sure way to failure. By the way, it has to be a
>trade-off. There is only so much money to go around, so there has to be
>choices made all along.
>There's also a good article by Jeffrey Sachs in The Economist available at
>It's for subscribers only, but there are probably other articles available
>if people search online. The articles is from 2002, and begins:
>"IF GEORGE BUSH spent more time and money on mobilising Weapons of Mass
>Salvation (WMS) in addition to combating Weapons of Mass Destruction
>(WMD), we might actually get somewhere in making this planet a safer and
>more hospitable home. WMD can kill millions and their spread to dangerous
>hands needs to be opposed resolutely. WMS, in contrast, are the arsenal of
>life-saving vaccines, medicines and health interventions, emergency food
>aid and farming technologies that could avert literally millions of deaths
>each year in the wars against epidemic disease, drought and famine. Yet
>while the Bush administration is prepared to spend $100 billion to rid
>Iraq of WMD, it has been unwilling to spend more than 0.2% of that sum
>($200m) this year on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and
>This debate reminds me of the debate around climate change with Bjorn
>Lomborg. Simplistically he advocates climate change is over-rated as a
>problem and money should be better spent on other programmes in the
>developing world. But, climate change is likely to make any money spent on
>other programmes pointless if everyone is dead as a result of climate
>change. If everyone in the developing world dies of malaria and other
>diseases, funding of telecommunications will have been useless.
>----- Original Message ----
>From: Dan Krimm <dan at musicunbound.com>
>To: governance at lists.cpsr.org 
>Sent: Saturday, 11 August, 2007 5:23:33 AM
>Subject: Re: [governance] Fundamentally broken design of society
>It could just be that the Millennium Development Goals have a blind spot in
>the area of Media and the Fourth Estate.  How does one expect all of these
>goals to be accomplished without a robust and nondiscriminatory
>communication platform for collective discourse?
>Is it just a paternalistic responsibility of developed nations to help out
>their "crippled cousins" in the developing world, or is the responsibility
>to help those developing nations become systematically more
>self-sufficient?  Unilateral paternalism only goes so far, and it is this
>unfortunate tendency in the current U.S. administration that bothers *many*
>U.S. citizens, for example.  I know it bothers a lot of other people around
>the world as well.
>I would argue that provision of empowering communication platforms is an
>absolutely critical issue underlying *all* other substantive issues,
>because collective communication drives and enables substantive action on
>all other fronts.
>If you make it a trade-off, then in the long run the developing country
>loses anyway.  That may in fact be a false dichotomy.  Who says that
>investing in communications will not pay off in empowering efforts in all
>the other areas listed?  Knowledge is Power, and Access to Knowledge is
>ICT provision is not an isolated silver bullet by any means, but I think it
>must be an ineliminable component of any development package.  It is the
>glue that holds all the rest together, in the end.
>At 9:58 PM -0700 8/9/07, David Goldstein wrote:
>>Hi Norbert et al,
>>I agree with the views expressed here, in short, on making technology
>>accessible to all regardless of location, income and ability or
>>disability. However there are many constraints in achieving this. In the
>>developing world, what does a funder or government spend money on -
>>malaria nets or internet access? To name just one issue. Safe drinking
>>water, child poverty, sanitation, disease, infrastructure such as roads,
>>railways, airports?
>>This is reflected in the UN's 8 Millennium Development Goals. These are:
>>Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
>>Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
>>Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
>>Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
>>Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
>>Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
>>Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
>>Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development.
>>See  <<http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/%3Ehttp://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/>http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/>http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ 
>>You could argue technology fits within goal 8, but it's a low priority.
>>Even Bill Gates has seen that the issues raised in the 8 goals above is
>>more important than technology. So a business alliance, while laudable, is
>>going to be difficult to get to work when the essentials are in other
>>Do we support the development of technology in the developing world, but
>>people die who, if the money was spent on the above goals might have
>>lived? Of course, we make all sorts of decisions and they all have costs
>>in other areas. The chocolate bar, the flight to visit my parents, the
>>coffee... the money purchasing all these things, it can be argued could go
>>to better use.
>>I don't have an answer. There are many views and maybe there are many
>>right ones. Maybe talking to an organisation such as The Gates and/or Ford
>>Foundations or others working towards the above goals could give guidance
>>on how support can be given in the area of technology. Who knows, they may
>>like the project and give money!
>>----- Original Message ----
>>From: Norbert Bollow <nb at bollow.ch>
>>To: governance at lists.cpsr.org; ldmisekfalkoff at gmail.com 
>>Cc: allies at QuitBabylon.com; IDC-ICT-Taskforce at yahoogroups.com;
>>AdHoc_IDC at yahoogroups.com 
>>Sent: Thursday, 9 August, 2007 11:38:29 PM
>>Subject: Re: [governance] Fundamentally broken design of society
>>Linda Misek-Falkoff <ldmisekfalkoff at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> hope I read correctly that the concept of a broken system holds forth the
>>> hope and vision that either it was once whole, or can be brought into being
>>> [more] whole.
>>Yes, precisely:  As long as I thought about the matter as "a social
>>problem" I had little if any confidence of actually being able to do
>>anything about it.  But when I read that word "broken", that was
>>helpful, to me at least, to inspire me towards more contructive lines
>>of thought.  If something is broken, it can usually be fixed or
>>Now, while the thought "fix it or replace it" cannot be applied to
>>society in any reasonably way, it can be applied to rules of conduct,
>>legal rules, and computer software, all of which have significant
>>influence on how society evolves.  For example, when a company that
>>creates and popularizes a new technology has neglected to get that
>>technology evaluated with regard to its effects on people with
>>disabilities, certainly justice would demand that there should be a
>>legal liability connected to any resulting "disabling" or
>>marginalizing effect on people with disabilities.
>>Unfortunately this kind of legal change is difficult to achieve in
>>any country, and even harder to achieve internationally, and on top of
>>that, probably quite a few such changes would be needed in order to
>>really fix what I see as overall brokenness in the system of legal
>>rules and how they are applied.
>>However there is another path, which seems much more promising to me:
>>Namely, to try creating a subsystem of the overall economy, by means
>>of designing an attractive and fair set of rules by means of which
>>the subsystem of the economy would function.  My inspiration for this
>>idea is to a large extent the "social hack" approach of Richard
>>Stallman's founding of the Free Software movement, which was
>>successful precisely because it was sufficient for success to get
>>support from a significant number of people who were willing and
>>interested in doing the right thing, it was not necessary to get
>>consent or acceptance from anyone else.
>>The fundamental idea that I want to pursue is to focus on empowerment:
>>--> What does it take to fully empower those people who are currently
>>    restricted from fully benefiting from ICT because of some kind of
>>    digital divide?
>>I expect that discussing this question will lead to collecting some
>>set of principles (or sets of principles) that will be supportive of
>>empowerment, and that will help prevent those kinds of disempowerment
>>that are possible to prevent.
>>Then we can discuss how to form some kind of alliance (I'm thinking
>>of something like a business alliance, but not restricted to
>>businesses only) to support each other while pursuing this set of
>>goals.  This alliance would be the "social hack" / "movement" that
>>can perhaps somehow follow the example of the Free Software movement.
>>I have set up a discussion mailing list for these matters at
>>and I would like to invite everyone who is interested in this set of
>>topics to join me there.
>>Norbert Bollow
>><nb at bollow.ch>                    <<http://Norbert.ch%3Ehttp://Norbert.ch>http://Norbert.ch>http://Norbert.ch 
>>President of the Swiss Internet User Group
>>SIUG  <<http://SIUG.ch%3Ehttp://SIUG.ch>http://SIUG.ch>http://SIUG.ch 
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