Friday, December 6, 2002

Tech warriors?

BBC News Online talks to women in Africa who have taken up a career in technology, a field normally dominated by men.

"An international education programme backed by the US tech giant Cisco Systems, brings together business, governments, international organisations and donors to promote technology skills in developing countries. The aim of the programme is to help people in developing countries learn and improve their information technology skills, with the hope of reducing the digital divide with industrialised countries. There are now more than 90 academies in 32 developing countries, with more than 2,500 students and nearly 500 graduates." And, like here, the tech world is male-dominated, and women are trying to find their place in it. And on the surface, that seems entirely reasonable...

Maybe I've become too cynical, but new technologies have historically failed to emancipate women - just think of the technological dream house of the 1950s luring women back into the home so that the men returned from war could resume "their" jobs. Now, more women in industrialised and developing nations are being trained to use new technologies - and I'm all for including people who have historically been excluded, and for doing something about the Digital Divide. But I dislike the insinuation that technology will "free" or "save" anyone. This gets back to the problem of viewing technologies as mere tools - somehow separate from the people who build or use them. How successful is any new technology going to be without the social and cultural "infrastructure" to support it? Surely these contexts evolve along with the introduction of new technologies - but more often than not, tech innovation moves way faster than we are able to socially adapt.

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