Technology in Latin America: Dignity in a Digital Age?

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 18.09.13We live in a hectic, over saturated world where the need for instant information and solutions demands a quick response from human beings and fast political or social action. Just a couple of years ago, it was unimaginable that a person could surf the web and make a phone call through the same line.  Now, we can do both while sitting in a moving car. Technology and the nature of social relationships are evolving faster than ever in the digital age.  Already, technology has drastically changed the nature of human social interaction.

Today, many of us are capable of maintaining close relationships with people who live all the way on the other side of the globe. In the past, people could only be “viewers” when they used information and communication technologies. Nowadays, users are the main actor in this relationship: users can create blogs, websites, YouTube videos, and post pictures and comments over social media. This occurred thanks to a technological jump that was achieved when the current Web 2.0 replaced Web 1.0, and made the internet experience what we know today. For example, Web 2.0 enabled the existence of social media and the infrastructure of user-created content.

Groups around the world use these technologies to spread their messages, whether this message is a positive or a negative one, and also to publicize conflicts in different countries. A positive example of social media use is the way that Arab Spring emerged through the creativity and innovation of citizens in social media. A negative example is when terrorist groups use social media to spread their hate doctrine.

The issue of how to regulate these technologies has become a big one, especially with the growth of some groups that want to limit freedom of speech.  The biggest issue facing Latin America is ‘digital gap.’ Many places all over the continent of Latin America lack cellular network and other communication services. This is because the people in those places have more urgent needs than access to internet and mobile networks.  It is much more necessary for them to have access to drinking water than to technology.

Another issue is that many people in Latin American countries still perceive information and communication technologies as a leisure-related luxury good. People do not realize that such technologies can empower them to promote topics which are relevant to the local and national agenda, and even to their basic needs. Many people in Latin America do not realize that people who use computers can be genuinely working, not just enjoying leisurely activities such as web browsing or social media. Finally, the urgency of other needs, such as clean drinking water, poses a great challenge for this digital gap as people, will not understand the importance of information technologies until they have their basic needs fulfilled.

By Manuel E. Soto Alday, a WYA member from Latin America