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A thought for the "Newly Connected"

Last Christmas, Manuel Castells led to thoughts about the tradition of giving and the 1950's developmental theory of trickle-down (i.e., building up power points in an under-developed society, which will lead ultimately to trickling down of the capital within the society targeted for development). Castells' theorises that the Net ignores parts of society which are irrelevant from a capitalist point of view (they have no capital). Castells underlines the modern downfall of trickle-down, to my mind. IT, Business Process Management and corporate efficiency have worked toward plugging "leaks" and concentrating capital in "approved" conduits. In the meantime, charities (many cashing in on corporate social responsibility programmes, that have become necessary) continue to be a large part of the trickle-down effect and of development work. Many have a good methodology, but on the whole, the situation represents a double failure, as trickling via charity can be disempowering and dependence building.

An interesting variable in this formula are the "newly connected": those financially disempowered persons (pecuniarily poor) who will be connected to the Net in 2011. The ITU expects that over a billion people will be accessing the Web via mobile phones by 2015, but I think that it's going to be more like 2 billion. The reason for this will be that web services such as M-Money will be clothed in simple UI's so that people will be using the Web, without knowing it. This is very similar to the phenomenon of people who use email or MXiT without knowing they are using the Net. Newly connected persons may still be irrelevant to the Net as an enabler of financial flows, however, they have more possibilities of becoming relevant. And they do present an opportunity for advertising, as one sees with free apps available on Android's Market for applications.

These services are also going to go some way in crossing Castells divide between the Net and the self. Castells postulates that irrelevant portions of the population develop a strong identity, which is localised and which rejects the global Net. The self thus is incompatible with the Net, the local approach incompatible with the global.

All this just goes to underline that networks in 2011 are going to connect more poor people, and corporations and governments will try to leverage economies of scale to draw even more finances out of these newly connected. Money will trickle down, and it will trickle back up too. It might be better to draw an analogy with the mammalian circulatory system: money like blood rushes through vast pipes at the heart of the networked society, and it is forced into ever thinner ducts as it approaches the marginalised areas, until it performs a kind of slow ooze. However, even this ooze has a direction, until eventually the money gathers together in the pipes and heads back to the heart. By trying to draw more money from these regions, what should end up happening is the laying of larger pipes and the tighter integration of marginalised areas to the "big pump". Ultimately this will be beneficial, as new needs will generate new was to access revenues.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: January 31st 2011 06:22

The Hawthorn Effect

Showing people you care, lifts morale and makes them work harder and better. It doesn’t really matter whether your long-term intervention is ICT’s health or whatever. The argumentation doesn’t quite hold for short-term relief, as when water is delivered to the thirsty.

This is something that Amartya Sen in his Development as Freedom skirts around. He is an economist, and he is used to writing to audiences which pooh-pooh such soft thinking. But reading between the lines, reading meaning into the examples he uses (often from his native India) one senses the importance of humanity, caring and interest in the actual recipients (not the machines) as highlights.

Fortunately this effect has been given a name – The Hawthorn Effect – and described in scientific terms. Finally a piece of hard science, that even economists can bite into. The cynic will say that marketers and managers can also bite into it – great motivate people to do more work for the same price. But Mr. Cynic, consider this: are the people happier than before? Probably, productive people are happy, intrinsically motivated people are happy. It’s not about the money, it’s about the feeling you take home at the end of the day. Try it out Mr. Cynic…

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 22nd 2011 08:00

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