I missed this interview with Ritse Erumi (posted by Watan Vota on ICTWorks web site in February 2011). I invite you to read the whole interview here. Below is an excerpt in which Ms. Erumi responds to this question…

In previous conversations, we’ve talked about your interest in the impact of ICT on minority languages and cultures. What do you think are the positive and negative impacts of ICT? And is a net positive or negative so far? What might we as ICT4D professionals do to make sure its a net positive in the future?

Tough questions, indeed! Because the field of ICT4D is still very young, I would say the jury is still out on whether we can characterize the effects of ICTs as a true net positive or negative. We’ve seen pockets of innovation pop up all over the landscape and this is, in my view, a very good thing. However, I would like to see many of these pilots scale up to a degree where they cause some sort of tipping point within their respective fields (think M-Pesa).

With regard to minority languages and cultures, one of the inherent weaknesses of many ICTs is that they tend to assume a certain degree of literacy. This is one reason why I have become interested in information access and knowledge-sharing, particularly in the area of non-formal education. As an Itsekiri (one of the minority ethnic groups in Nigeria), I wonder how minority languages and cultures will survive within an increasingly digitalized world.

Is there a place for ICTs within these language groups and cultures? Can ICTs penetrate and help preserve these cultures? If so, what would that look like? What will happen to non-literate and non-numerate members of these communities? I could go on with the questions but what becomes immediately apparent is that the prevailing notion of the “digital divide” splinters in a variety of ways. Simply providing access to a smartphone or laptop will not cut it. Yet, these nuanced challenges create great opportunities to innovate and foster significant and appropriate change.

As ICT4D professionals, we would do well to continue to keep these types of marginalized communities — their needs and aspirations — in mind, since one-size solutions will not fit all.

Secondly, the generational differences we encounter in the developed world (e.g., digital natives vs. digital immigrants) hold similar parallels with some of the challenges we are currently encountering in the developing world. With over 40% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 15 (according to the Population Reference Bureau), it seems imperative that we not just focus on ICTs for education (ICT4E) but on preparing this subset of society for meaningful participation in the global information economy.

Thirdly, we should continue to work towards the creation of information-based services that are localized and relevant to the societies in question. And finally, I would encourage practitioners to seek out ways to provide information in formats that can be easily and freely consumed.

I would be interested to know about any NGOs or government programs that specifically address the question of the effects their ICT-oriented projects have on the culture of the people they are intended to serve. More to point, how do such organizations establish benchmarks for measuring such cultural effects? Is there an assumption that participatory projects mitigate any harmful impacts of ICT use?