16 Aug 2009

E3 - 3: Developing Culture as Foundation for Future Telecenters

The interesting discussions on administration of internet content took my mind in multiple directions on explicit content related to different forms of knowledge and their use by people of different life styles. These life styles may have existed and evolved from explicit architectural and artistic masterpieces of Khajuraho, Konarak, Ellora and Puri in India (see http://india.shilpasayura.org) as well as Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, and anywhere in the world including Diana and heaven's touch from greece and rome. A popular belief is that they are all educational art.

Looking back my experience in internet content, The ISP salesman first sold internet access for homes for explicit content. I know many people who got into internet for curiosity of xrated material. This was around 1997. But when people began to realize the value of internet; their behaviors changed and such content become an option. People did better things like communication, education, business on internet. The next explicit wave was chat rooms, skype and social networks followed. Each delivers user generated live explicit content, which is impossible to be banned. The xrated business followed every evolving internet trend as it may have been a good money spinner for them.

Until around 2004, There was a general feeling among village people in Sri Lanka, that internet was harmful. When Nenasala Telecenters were setup in remote communities, People found that internet has better uses, especially for education. It’s the Educational content like NASA photos, Yahoo Kids and Minicilip Games were popular in most Uva Province Telecenters before Shilpa Sayura moved in.

Scanning back, I can’t remember any serious explicit content case from any of the 587 Telecenters, So called violent shooting games like “Poject IGI” or "Doom" did not do any harm to children at Telecenters. Probably the Kids had only a little time to kill. I didn’t find any youth or child affected by violence games or explicit content. No parent had complained me so far. (This doesn’t mean that people don’t access such content from Telecenters. We sometimes found such content in temporary internet files and in offline hard drives. When we found, we always asked them to remove such content and made them aware of possible harms that can bring to a mind of a child getting exposed to them. Actually none resisted ethical and cultural develpment at Nenasala.) Generally I could say high majority of Nenasala are free from explicit content.


The answer is simple. It's the Village Culture. Over 40% of the Nenasala setup in Temples in Uva Province, creates nenasala a strong cultural and moral binding towards the society. Having setup by govenment created owner responsibility. I think Nenasala are much safer than any cybercafe, home or office connection and a camera phone could be more harmful. In this case Temples are ideal locations for Nenasala.

In Shilpa Sayura e Learning, Nava Goviya e Agriculture and Project E3 for Telecenter Sustainability and Knowledge Society, we always allocated a strong stake for culture. Culture was the triple bottom foundation of each of the initiative. Not only from the outlook, but also from inherent philosophies of design, development and implementation. Culture was a key component, filter and enabler.

In Shilpa Sayura content Local Languages, Art, Dance, Music and History content set the perfect cultural foundation for entertaining education to attract Children to Telecenters. Internet is not prime choice of Children. In E3 we used local culture as the foundation for developing e learning, e business and e leadership at Telecenters.

Culture helped building mutual trust and openness in the network, helped to communicate and network people encourage participation and collaboration, in which E3 content played a major role. We found that explicit content can not harm a society bound with a culture, trust, respect and social ethics. What we need is to create awareness on better uses of internet, offer more interesting content and services like e education and e entertainment so that our youth will develop better taste in e content they use.

This is Sri Lankan context. Global context could be different as we are not the only people sharing internet and this wonderful planet

I refer to recent open ICT4D draft paper when considering global context
By Matthew Smith, Nathan J Engler, Gideon Christian, Kathleen Diga, Ahmed Rashid and Kathleen Flynn-Dapaah of IDRC, possibly shows direction to an evolving doorway leading to a new parallel closely related to our work in Shilpa Sayura and Project E3. The paper initiated a discussion on openness; We are seeing a future of content that could be more open and creative in shaping future social models.

The definition of openness may not only be viewed as the ownership of the content but impact with factors like human rights, freedom of expression --. People may demand generation of content for alternative life styles. There will always be hardliners and softliners and in-betweens. The question is where, how and who will draw the thin red line?

In this discussion, Subash a colleague in my office said “Banning explicit content will create a new government jobs for a Explicit Content Administrators”, (I think he meant a joke). It would be hard for governments to administer morals of citizens in order to create ideal social models by forming more and more new laws.

Instead, we can protect our youth from any harm that can occur from e content as well as e services through awareness, social watchfulness and buiding a trusted, valuble and reliable e content and e services is important. For me, this approach is no differnt from protecting youth from getting into alcohol and tobacco habits.

How ever in Project E3 we have suggested following best practices for Nenasala Operators to avoid child impact from explicit content.

1. Always watch, if there are any explicit material in temporary catche, specially, if the computers are used by adults, children know how to search images and videos
2. Facilitate Internet and content use by Children in groups, never leave them alone!
3. Keep PC monitors tuned opposite the walls, if computers are shared by children and adults
4. Watch! for any strange/ suspicious behaviors among any user
5. Offer entertaining and educating content and encourage valueble content creation
6. Don’t let children below age 16, to use internet or email alone
7. Dont trust google, wiki or any other website with under age children
8. screen pictures in emails with corner of eye screen, learn which lists they subscribed to (child safety is better than child privacy)
9. Make them aware of dangers of internet communications, spams, chat aliases and total strangers
10. Form your own social network for training on net behaviors

With project E3 Nenasala Telecenters get transformed to community e Schools+village business center + a local leader in Socio – Cultural activities. Talakumbura, Siayambalanduwa, Kandiyapitawewa, Nagala, Haldummulla, Kandegedara, Balagolla, Mahiyangana, Mapakadawewa, Andaulpotha Nenasala are best examples among many more Nenasala in Uva Province, and probably they could be future E3 role models, who use culture as their philosophy of social foundation. There are so much to for us to learn from them.

Their magic is done by building strong cultural foundation to develop a Telecenter model centered around trusted network of content and services. Therefore my conclusion is that

culture builds, binds and sustains Telecenter Networks

Niranjan Meegammana
Shilpa Sayura, NawaGoviya + Project E3

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