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The following text was sparked off by an exchange of e-mail with Jose Luis Pardos, Ambassador for Spain to Denmark and member of the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society, about a future issue of On The Internet about developing countries that I have been asked to guest edit.


What would you think of someone who called the working class the "developing class"? Would you burst out laughing? Would you wring his neck? Or shake his hand? The word "development", like so many other words, is taken far too much for granted. It needs revisiting with critical eyes at least as far as it is used in relation to the economic and technological situation of certain countries around the world. Jose Luis Padros was right in reminding me that the concept of development has a long history of misguided action. Yet, if there is paternalism in the concept of "development" there is also misery and exploitation. So what should be done? and how? and by whom?

Beyond these questions about "development" lies one of the major philosophical (and highly practical) questions I am continually confronted with in my work: having perceived what you believe to be the nature of a situation, how do you proceed to act on that knowledge? I wrote about the subject in What do you say after you've said Eureka?.

I am not one of those people who can just stand back and watch. Yet in intervening, to what extent do we not rob those who are directly concerned of their right and their responsibility to act for themselves? This kind of devaluation goes on every time someone sees himself as an expert and speaks if not acts in the name of others. "Here's how you should do it. I know best. I'm older, wiser, more intelligent and what's more I have the money (or the gun)."

The problem is first of all one of perception. In order to act appropriately, all actors involved need a clear picture of what is going on. And in acting, they need to build action on shared perceptions. We need to realise that our "knowledge" is never complete nor impartial and often differs greatly from that of others involved. Maybe the answer to the problem of what to do with our perceptions of the situation lies in presenting them to those concerned, saying "look, I might be quite wrong, but I personally see what's going on here like this... how do you yourself perceive things?..." and out of that exchange of perception between peers rather than from master to slave or from expert to layperson a mutual understanding could emerge that leads to appropriate action.

The "development" process is not just a one-way relationship. In a series of interviews of Africans about the integration of Internet in Africa carried out during INET'97, I was struck by how much those people have to teach us so-called developed nations, notably about a more convivial and community-based approach to using technologies when we flounder in rampant individualism and a growing lack of concern for each other as each of us withdraws behind his or her individual computer.

Sharing perceptions was my motivation in wanting to concentrate on the perceptions of people from those countries in preparing a special edition about so-called "developing nations" for the Internet Society's On The Internet. magazine.

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise.

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: August 8th, 1997 - Last up-dated: August 8th, 1997