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Geographies of Information Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa (new publication)

A new publication of ours in now out in  The African Technopolitan. Graham, M., and Foster, C. 2016.  Geographies of Information Inequality in Sub-Saharan AfricaThe African Technopolitan. 5. 78-85.

The piece draws on some of our previous empirical research to reflect on what connectivity means to inclusion in the ‘network society.’ Connectivity certainly isn’t a sufficient condition for inclusion and equity, and we need to ask whether it is a necessary one.

Connectivity, rather, tends to be an amplifier: one that often reinforces rather than reduces inequality. We therefore need to move towards deeper critical socio-economic interrogations of the barriers or structures that limit activity and reproduce digital inequality.  The categorisations developed in the paper offer an empirically-driven and systematic way to understand these barriers in more detail.

Kapuścinski Public Lecture - Uneven Geographies of Power and Participation in the Internet Era

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 11.50.17

You can watch the whole lecture at the link above. For anyone interested in more about the topic, the following pieces could be of interest:

Graham, M., Straumann, R., Hogan, B. 2016. Digital Divisions of Labour and Informational Magnetism: Mapping Participation in Wikipedia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. (in press) doi:10.1080/00045608.2015.1072791.(pre-publication version here)
Graham, M. 2015. Information Geographies and Geographies of Information New Geographies 7 159-166.
Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information Geo: Geography and Environment.2(1) 88-105. doi:10.1002/geo2.8
Graham, M., Hogan, B., Straumann, R. K., and Medhat, A. 2014. Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 104(4). 746-764. (pre-publication version here)

Informational Magnetism on Wikipedia: mapping edit focus

The previous post demonstrated not only that Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa are net-importers of content on Wikipedia (Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, receives 10.7 more edits from the rest of the world than it commits to the rest of the world), but it also showed where those edits come from.

This post does something a little different: it shows where edits are sent to.

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In this network, an edge (a line connecting nodes) thickness is proportionate to the total number of edits received. That is, if a region sends most of its edits to North America (even if it sends very few edits) then that edge will be thick.

With the graph normalized by the number of edits sent, we see a striking finding from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Not only do less than half of edits in the MENA region stay within the MENA region, but a substantial share go to North America, even if their impact on the overall number of edits within North America is rather minimal.

In fact, proportionate to the total number of edits sent from a region, MENA sends more edits to North America than any other region sends to another. This leads to what might be considered a ‘double whammy’ for the MENA region. Not only are there not many articles about the Middle East, and even fewer in local languages. And not only are there very very few editors. But of the edits that exist, a lot of them are to write about Europe, Asia, and America.

The global informational cores are exerting a sort of information magnetism. The presence of information creating a virtuous cycle of informational richness; and the absence of information being part of a vicious cycle of informational poverty.

Ralph Straumann and I are working on a paper that explores these topics and this conclusion in more detail, and will post a full draft here as soon as we have one. In the meantime, we’d welcome any comments or questions on the patterns and data presented here.

Note that this work comes from the following report:

Graham, M., and Hogan, B. 2014. Uneven Openness: Barriers to MENA Representation on Wikipedia.Oxford Internet Institute Report, Oxford UK.

The following paper also offers an abridged version of some of the results:

Graham, M., Hogan, B., Straumann, R. K., and Medhat, A. 2014 Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty Annals of the Association of American Geographers (forthcoming).

Or for a broader discussion about why the locality of participation matters, see:

Graham, M. 2014. Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour. In Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing our Lives, eds M. Graham and W. H. Dutton. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 99-116.

Graham, M., M. Zook, and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in the Urban Environment.Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3) 464-479.

Historical visions of connectivity

Technologies of connectivity have changed beyond recognition in the last century. But, how have our imaginations of the effects of those technologies of connectivity changed?


This is the question that we posed (and addressed) in a forthcoming paper that I wrote about last week:

Graham, M., Andersen, C., and Mann, L. 2015. Geographies of Connectivity in East Africa: Trains, Telecommunications, and Technological Teleologies. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (forthcoming).

In that paper, we look at the arrival of two transformative technologies of connectivity into East Africa: the railway in the late 19th Century, and fibre-optic cables at the beginning of the 21st.
In this brief post, I want to juxtapose a selection of quotes from the historical moment with quotes from the contemporary one (you can find the full citations for the quotes in our paper):

I seemed to see in a vision what was to happen in the years to come. I saw steamers trailing their dark smoke over the waters of the lake; I saw passengers arriving and disembarking; I saw the natives of the east making blood brotherhood with the natives of the west. And I seemed to hear the sound of church bells ringing at great distance afar off. - Henry Morton Stanley, Journalist and Explorer (1902)
What a road it is! Everything is apple pie order. The track is smoothed and weeded and ballasted as if it were London and North-Western. Every telegraph post has its number; every mile, every hundred yards, every change of gradient, has its mark […] Here and there, at intervals, which will become shorter every year, are plantations of rubber, fibre and cotton, the beginnings of those inexhaustible supplies which will one day meet the yet unmeasured demand of Europe for those indispensable commodities. Every few miles are little trim stations, with their water tanks, signals ticket-offices, and flower beds complete and all of pattern, backed by impenetrable bush. In brief, one slender thread of scientific civilisation, of order, authority, and arrangement, drawn across the primeval chaos of the world.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Winston_Churchill_1874_-_1965_ZZZ5426F.jpg - Winston Churchill, Former Prime Minister (1908)
Practically nobody, in this age of progress can say to us ‘thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.’I see, as in a vision, a thread-like serpentine double rail athwart the entire continent. South to North I see the coloured races being conveyed to and from labour centres in health and comfort. I see our crowded and over-crowed areas here pouring out thousands of white men, to build, as Mr.Rhodes wished, “more homes” under brighter skies and happier conditions.- Lewis Mitchell, a director of the British South Africa Company, (1906)

We can contrast those visions to some contemporary ones:

If you want to become extremely wealthy over the next five years, and you have a basic grasp of technology, here’s a no-brainer: move to Africa. Seriously.The internet is only now arriving, and – with a billion people on the continent still mostly offline – there exists a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build the next Zyngas, eBays and Groupons for a huge untapped local market. You need only look at the map of huge broadband fibreoptic cables currently being laid…to understand how quickly and ambitiously an entire continent is being connected.http://www.chartwellspeakers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/David-Rowan-photo-b-w1.jpg - David Rowan, Editor of Wired UK (2011)
Just as it is clear that growth in the 19th and 20th centuries was driven by networks of railways and highways, growth and development in the 21st century is being defined and driven by digital highways and ICT-led value-added services.In Africa, we have missed both the agricultural and industrial revolutions and in Rwanda we are determined to take full advantage of the digital revolution. This revolution is summed up by the fact that it no longer is of utmost importance where you are but rather what you can do – this is of great benefit to traditionally marginalized regions and geographically isolated populations.
 - Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (2006)
Thanks to I.C.T. the world now is truly a global village with better communication and now better informed. I am confident that timely solutions to the ongoing economic crisis will be found using the crucial tools of I.C.T…[we] are finally joining what the American author Thomas Friedman called a flattened world. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d4/Mwai_Kibaki_%28cropped%29.jpg - Mwai Kibaki, Former President of Kenya (2009)

What we argue in the paper is whilst some of these revolutionary hopes that are ascribed to technologies of connectivity are not new, we see important differences between the historical and contemporary moments. The historical moment was concerned with a shrinking world and on the ability of technology to integrate an empire and open up new lands to imperial ambitions. The contemporary moment is characterised instead by a focus on a global village instead of the colonial moment's shrunken world.

It is less about cores connecting to peripheries, and more about getting everyone into the global economy, the global village, and Thomas Friedman’s flat world.

A core goal of the paper is then to show how these framings of connectivity, in both moments, have supported both the colonial and neoliberal projects: one showing the inevitability of the core’s dominion over the peripheries and one showing the the inevitability of connections to a global marketplace.