Developments - The International Development Magazine - Only connect

December 13, 2005

I've just been getting into a magazine called "Developments: The International Development Magazine." It features respectable journalists writing informed pieces about new issues in international development. The most recent issue is a great bit about Open Source Software and the impact of free programs in the developing world.

I appreciate the E.M. Forester reference in the title of this editorial note, "Only Connect," which is from Howard's End. The full text is: "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. " Another favorite Forester truism, from Passage to India, is that "Ideas are fatal to caste."

But there is some irony I think in sticking Forester in here, considering his great distopian story "The Machine Stops," (full text) in which human progress has "come to mean the progress of the Machine," and everyone has thousands of meaningless, connections with friends they have never met.

Sidney Perkowitz has an excellent discussion of Forester's views of technology and "The Machine Stops;" here's a bit (via American Prospect):

Fearing that more technology meant less humanity, he utterly rejected the technical achievements of his time. In 1908, after hearing of the first successful airplane flight over a kilometer-long circuit, he wrote in his journal, ". . . if I live to be old, I shall see the sky as pestilential as the roads. . . . Science . . . is enslaving [man] to machines. . . . Such a soul as mine will be crushed out." But we have come to learn that instead of producing a monolithically "bad" or "good" effect, a rich technology usually generates a balance sheet of benefits and costs‚ many of them unpredictable, because people use technology in unexpected ways. Thomas Mann once said, "A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a great truth." A significant technology also embraces opposites; if some of its applications constrain human potential, others enhance it.

And so, with some appreciation of situational humor and contradiction, I think this issue of Developments gets even better.

Here's the bit from the editorial lead-in of the current issue:

Developments magazine In Zambia a street market vendor is paying for his order of Coca-Cola by text message. In Tanzania a candidate in the Presidential elections has been awarded his degree after completing it online through distance learning. In Nairobi, a daughter is sending money to her father in rural Kenya with prepaid pay as you go airtime. And in Namibia schoolchildren are surfing the net, sending emails and writing essays thanks to FLOSS, open source software written by enthusiastic programmers who don't want any payment.

New technology is changing the face of international development in ways that no one predicted. And in this issue of developments we ask how technology can fight poverty, from the fisherman using his mobile to check which market wants his catch to the Ethiopians taking to blogging to change global perceptions of their country. The net, of course, has long been touted as a revolutionary tool for international development, but the global explosion in mobile phone use means it has rapidly caught up. And mobile phones are easier to share, requiring much less time to use, are more portable and you don't have to read or write to use them.

Visit the website for Developments: Developments - The International Development Magazine