Do we need more Internet or fewer fistulas?

A few months ago I posted a link to Nick Kristof writing about fistulas in the Times (I didn’t bother to link to it since they charge for their archives, the plutocrats). Fistulas are a little known condition that affect young women, usually poor and African, who give birth without the aid of health workers or doctors. Because the women are very young and lack adequate medical help, the babies are often stillborn and sit in their birth canal for too long, causing tears in their intestines or urethras. The result is very bad incontinence that leaves them stinking, ostracized from their communities, and very often abandoned by their husbands.

There’s a great article in the Times today about this, with an accompanying slideshow. I read it as I was thinking about work I’m planning to do on the Internet, and how and why we should bridge the digital divide in America and abroad. Over the next couple of months I’ll be looking into Clinton’s promise of technology for everyone and how plausible it is to bring developing communities around the world, and working class communities here in the states, into the technological fold. The challenges are great; we must get these communities access to computers and an Internet connection and then teach them how to use the technologies. At the same time we must teach people — media literacy — so that they understand why this technology is so important.

Or is it? Do I think technology is so necessary simply because it appeals to me? Maybe developing nations need other things first, like enough doctors to treat fistula cases in Niger and and Mozambique, where there are a total of nine surgeons currently fit to do so. Are we blinded by the promise of technology so much that we miss the importance of solving basic, day-to-day health problems?

There’s no simple answer, of course. It is necessary to ensure that people in Africa, and in our own country, are healthy before anything else. But once we do that, we need to find ways to help them become their own agents, armed with the health and knowledge that empower them to bring positive change to their regions.

Access to technology is certainly a part of that, I think. Not hooking up African villagers with a few iPod nanos, but making sure local school districts and libraries have working, online computers is important, teaching kids how to use the Internet, and introducing the idea of social networking can be a big step forward.

Still, don’t you think Mozambique could use a couple more surgeons?

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  1. I think this is interesting. Also when America gives technology to a land, what is it taking? To what extent is America or other westernized nations trying to make the world in its own image. The wonderful technologies that develop out of neccessiry in other parts of the world, maybe not be the same is American technology. Technology doesn’t exist as part of any specific chrnological order, but rather has been molded out of specific necessities, cultural factors, and research and development. I mean if it raising the living standards then thats a major argurment for it, but its also a huge co-opting, a huge infiltration of any American company that advertises on the internet?

    And it shoud be kept in mind, that one of the main ways the American Empire functions now is by loaning money to country’s for them to build their infa-structure, the country has to hire American Corporations so right of the bat, its a redistribution of wealth from American taxpayers to American Corporations, if the deal is set up properly, the Country will have to default on the loan, which then puts American in a position to make any demands on the country needed to be American Corporate friendly.

    So to what extent are these the same principles at play?

  2. They’re not. We’re talking about private organizations using donated funds (yes, some of it from the U.S.) to promote media literacy and technology abroad — not with the intent of cultural imperialism (we’re all quite aware of that problem) but with helping cultures develop they’re own way. It’s an opposition to American domination.

    Unlike in Cuba, in America there’s the possibility for private citizens to act out on their own whims, not the whim of the state.

  3. That voting is the paramount form of civic participation in a Democracy is American Mythology. American Capitalism needs Decmoracy to be articulated as moments of accountability for representatives. Because the truth is, having to make decisions based on financial neccessity is anti-thetical to participation in power over your own life and society i.e to Democracy. Voting is important, but America is a perfect example of how economic inequaliy can completely underminde Democracy.

    I don’t know enough about Cuba to defend it, but to continue posing questins for us both to search answers to:

    Do the recently devastated people of New Orleans have more power over their own lives than Cuban citizens?

    Also, Private “citizens” acting on their own whim, as you use it, means wealthy people promoting media literacy and technology abroad. Wealthy people or organizations with few exceptions are a result of a society with an infa-structure of inequality, so I don’t understand how that would withstand moral scrutiny. And to define private citizens acting on their own whim as meaning able to spend their wealth is problamatic if Democracy is defined by the empowermnent of all people.

    Given the current terrible climate, private organizations can play a positive role, but in truth, citizens of Democracy should never have to rely on private mechanisms to secure their welfare.

  4. This is ridiculous. The outcome of this argument is that, since American democracy is riddled with problems, nothing good can come of it. This type of cynicism leads people nowhere except to a world where nothing matters.

  5. I think plenty of good can come from organized, bold, and politically educated American people. Organizing in New Jersey got an extra tax on anyone who makes over $500,000, that was important progressive taxation victory, where I’m from in Highland Park, people organized and got the bottom track removed from the High School, and brought awareness to tracking as a racist school practice.

    When a state’s main function is making war and Corporate Welfare, thats extremely close to facism. So, I think “riddled with problems” is an understatement. But I don’t know when I said nothing good can come of it? I think organized people can always accomplish good.

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