Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It,” is really about what has to happen for the poorest nations to move past the traps that prevent them from the systemic change that needs to happen to move them out of the bottom of the global economic system. To understand the impact of the “bottom billion,” Collier notes that the “bottom billion” is growing as fast as the rest of the world (40). These countries, centered primarily in Central Asia and Africa, are living with fourteenth century realities of civil war, plague and ignorance, though they coexist with the twenty-first century (27). In developing digital media and its role and application in the developing nations, the needs and characteristics and issues that the “bottom billion” are experiencing must be central to any technology that is developed.
With the emergence of digital media, we have adopted the thinking that technology can solve many of society’s issues. In many people’s minds, technology is equated with progress and success. But that’s a very Western perspective in thinking we can bring technology or some economic model or perspective to a poorer nation and elevate it out of poverty. But Collier asserts that changes in societies at the very bottom must come predominantly from within; we cannot impose it on them (21). It will continue to be a struggle between brave people wanting change and entrenched interests opposing it (21), Collier says.
But, the silver lining is that there is hope in the “bottom billion.” This growing group of people are ready for change. They have had years of economic, cultural and political oppression led by people and agencies who had no knowledge of their interests or their problems (21). For our future world to be livable, the heroes must win their struggle…unless we radically change our approach, Collier notes (29). Low income and low growth doesn’t have to mean hopelessness, as Collier writes (52). Considering how emerging media in the forms of pocket media, twitter via SMS and a myriad of applications being developed to encourage citizen journalism and community organizing are being adopted by those who did not traditionally have a voice, we are seeing and will continue to see a reversal of who has power in these traditional systems. Non-profits and NGOs are looking at ways in which mobile technology can address the healthcare and preventive needs of those with out access to professional care. The Camera Culture Group out of MIT is developing mobile technology that can assess refractive eye needs, determining prescriptions for eyeglasses and making corrective and preventive eye care much more accessible than a day-long commute to the next big city. Technology for social change is the future of emerging media among the “bottom billion.”
Lastly, any advances in technology and emerging media for the “bottom billion” must be participatory. It is the only way the tech will survive, and it is the only way it will be owned by the people, for the people, to create what Collier describes as a “unity of purpose (22).
Collier, P. (2010). The bottom billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford: Oxford University Press.