The Technology of In/Equality – Blog Action Day 2014

Today is Blog Action Day, bringing together bloggers in the hopes that we might collectively help shift opinion on important justice issues.  I have covered a few different topics over the years for this, including Water and The Power of We, and this year we are looking at ‘Inequality’.  In the spirit of the futurist ethos, I thought we could look at a few technologies that help exalt some of the poorest communities and mitigate inequality around the world…

Mobile Payments

Mobile Money Services in Haiti (CC Gates Foundation) A major aspect of global wealth inequality revolves around access to financial services and products, alongside the information required to make savvy business decisions.  Two-thirds of the world’s poorest (living on under $2.50 per day) have access to a mobile phone, whereas only one-tenth are able to be provided with basic financial services.  More people around the world have mobile phones than access to modern sanitation.

Mobile phones are helping turn a corner; allowing farmers and producers to receive the best returns from their labours, bringing countless more people into contact with economic opportunities, and proving vital in allowing the poorest communities access to reliable and (relatively) secure payment, saving and credit facilities.

Biotechnology and Agriculture

Advancements in farming technologies have provided greater yields, improved irrigation, and more reliable incomes.  These changes have allowed farmers, particularly those with larger farms, to increase their prosperity accordingly.  It has also allowed countries such as India to become less dependent on imports of food-grains, even to the point of being able to become net exporters at times, and alleviates the risk of food shortages.  Increases in rural employment, status of farmers, and education opportunities relating to the new technologies also have a cumulative positive effect.

There are problems involving farm mechanisation, and numerous sceptics highlight the extent to which programmes such as India’s Green Revolution have actually create more inequality – but for many living below or near the poverty line, biotechnology has created a structural framework for both food and wealth generation that is increasingly available and affordable to those who need it most.  We just need to make sure that the darker side of corporate influence is held properly to account and not allowed to become the norm.

3D Printing

3D Print Canal House (CC Forgemind Archimedia)More a technology that will grow into its usefulness in these areas, 3D-printing is already showing promise as a tool to help smooth over some of the worst consequences of inequality…even if it might not directly help to solve some of the primary causes.  The ability to provide affordable housing, sanitation, transportation, spare parts and other often expensive items could prove to be of great social utility.

Problems faced with ensuring that the technology is flexible and provided cheaply enough are being worked on specifically with the context of poverty in mind, and hopefully solutions can be developed that empower communities.  Allowing those who are often shut out of modern manufacturing processes the ability to to develop local information and innovation economies could evolve into a powerful tool in the fight against global poverty and the day-to-day impacts of wealth inequality.

Tablet Computers + Global Internet Access

If knowledge is power, than access to computer technology is an incredibly important tool in the fight against inequality.  The democratisation of education (the knowledge economy) helps to alleviate a self-perpetuating aspect of inequality, that those who are marginalised away from societal advancements find it increasingly difficult to return to parity.  Whilst the impact of increased access to education does not necessarily lead to reductions in inequality, as this is dependent on many other economic factors, it assists in elevating an important component closely related to the problem – which is the dignity of the individual and our fellow human beings.

In this regard, solar-powered tablet computers are essential in promoting agency and self-determination amongst those facing extreme levels of poverty.  When combined with attempts to ensure (preferably free) internet access in remote regions, we can see clear potential for boosts in productivity, innovation, community organising and resistance to injustice.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen in the few examples here, technology often helps to mitigate the symptoms of inequality – but can it also help create a more equal wealth distribution?  Much of the problem surrounding income disparity and wealth inequality revolves around political and economic frameworks that determine how technology is used, often working for the good of a relatively small group of vested interests rather than the betterment of all.  Until we find a way to disrupt these ideologies, the core problem will remain the same.  In the meantime, we should not discredit the significant opportunities that technological advancement provides for those at the damaging end of the inequality spectrum.  The key is to ensure that we work together to make such technologies accessible, flexible and affordable enough to be able to serve the greatest amount of good.

Ultimately, maybe a close parity regarding ownership of capital isn’t required if we can bring the billions who currently suffer from extreme poverty into a state of being where they are able to lead a satisfied and fulfilling life.  The great injustice of inequality today is that wealth concentration, as it currently stands, has a deleterious effect on those who have been shut out.  Technology provides us with a channel to overcome this gross injustice, and in the process redefine what it means to live our lives free from structural oppression.

Those who seek power and wealth will always find a way to attain it.  The disruption will come when we can make such attainments less able to impact the dignity of the individual (our ability to live, love, work and create in peace), and thereby find a new yardstick for our collective humanity.  If we can find a way to detach wealth from dignity – thereby creating a global society that facilitates wellbeing over and above monetary success – then we can begin to unravel the currently devastating influence of global inequality.

Earth Horizon with Star (CC DonkeyHotey)Inequality isn’t really about who hordes the most money, it is about the degradation and corruption of the societal structures needed to truly support ourselves and one another.  Do not let the financialisation of almost every aspect of our lives today convince you otherwise…money is not the problem with inequality – rather it is a symptom of our inability to recognise our duty to others and find solidarity in a shared sense of the importance of human dignity.

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