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ICT as a Social Shaping Technology: Potentials and Limitations1 By: Jay A.


In the 1960's, information and communication technologies (ICTs) were criticized as instruments of domination and oppression. Two decades later, after ICTs were recreated, they came to be considered as tools for shaping political, economic, cultural and other activities. Hence, the social shaping of technology theory or SST. But while SST is relatively gaining ground, and while a number are using ICT as tools for advancing social activism and democratization, others are still lukewarm to the idea. The reasons: the limiting characteristics of ICT particulary with regards the issues of nonexclusivity, access and digital divide, and anonymity and security. Characterizing ICT Wikipedia defines ICT as the technology which deals with the use of electronic computers and computer software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit and retrieve information. It is the result of the fusion of two technologies the computer technology and the communication technology which developed separately (Williams, et. al., 1998). Hamelink (2002) traces this fusion sometime between 1930's and 1980's when the invention of electronic computers, transistors, semi-conductors and integrated circuits or chips occurred. The fusion transformed ICT into fast, cost-efficient, and reliable technology. These characteristics hooked a great number of individuals into ICT with some even considering it as indispensable. Ross Nadal of the island of Masbate, for instance, just fishes his cellphone from his pocket everytime he feels like calling his friends and relatives in Manila and Cebu rather than cross the sea and meet them. He not only saves time and money but also avoids the hassle of carrying luggages and the risks of travelling. Similarly, Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo just taps the keyboard of his computer to read the messages sent by his constituents in the e-Sumbong section of the citys website rather than go house to house. Others, like employees of the Philippine government, just log-on to their GSIS accounts to follow-up their loan applications and hence avoid long and unnecessary queues. ICT also has a wider reach. Individuals from different countries just meet virtually through video- or tele-conferencing, or through electronic chatrooms or forums. Others can even close a business deal without losing the comforts of their homes or missing golf or tennis matches. Also, shoppers like Hannah Foreman of Southern California do not anymore travel from countries to countries to buy rare items from India or Russia. A few
Paper presented at the Activist School, The Institute for Popular Democracy, Quezon City, Philippines. May 23, 2006.

minutes surfing the web is already enough to get the items desired. Even members of ethnic tribes in Africa are not left behind. Bekowe Skkhakhane of Yanguye, South Africa, who still fetches water by the river and cook foods on sticks, has a cellphone to call her husband in Johannesburg 250 miles away (Lafraniere 2005). ICT, however, is not without impacts on the society. These impacts are usually viewed or measured using a number of lenses the most popular of which are technological determinism and the social shaping of technology. Technological determinism is a school of thought that sees technical developments, ICT, or most broadly, technology as the sole or prime antecedent causes of changes in society, and technology is seen as the fundamental condition underlying the pattern of social organization (Chandler 2002). Its argument is that man shaped technology butbutwhich later became an autonomous or independent condition that facilitated societal and behavioral changes. Because of technology, for instance, three of every four married British males hooked to the internet has more time to spend with their personal computers than with their wives fulfilling their marital obligations. Technology was also instrumental to the birth of the text generation now being considered as having a different social habits and even a different alphabet. Critics of technological determinism argue, however, that society creates and shapes ICT and not the other way around. As Martin (2001) puts it, technology is a product of society and reflects or embodies its origins in various ways. This line of thinking is called as the social shaping of technology. According to Williams and Edge (1996), Central to the SST is the concept that there are 'choices' (though not necessarily conscious choices) inherent in both the design of individual artifacts and systems, and in the direction or trajectory of innovation programs." These choices shape technology and its utility. The varying models of mobile phones, for example, is based on the different needs of users. While some individuals are already contented with units that can make simple calls and can send 'text' messages, the more savvy ones clamor for those equipped with music programs and videos. The same with personal computers (PCs) and desktops. While there are individuals who use computers only for word processing, there are also those who use PCs for number crunching. And in both cases, there are different hardware and software requirements. Because of the influence of SST, many started considering technology as one potential avenue for intervening to change the society as well as the technology itself (Martin 2001). As a result, there are social activists and workers of democracy who started utilizing ICT in advancing their social and political agenda. Example are the Zapatistas of the State of Chiapas in Mexico who deviated from the traditional way of exposing the actions of their government. By sending electronic mails (e-mails) to sympathizers and journalists worldwide, they were able to force the thuggish and repressive Mexican government to sit down with them on the negotiating table. This not only prevented more bloodspills but also helped realized some of the demands of the peasants.

ICT in activist work Constanza-Chock (forthcoming) enumerates seven uses of ICT for social movement organizations. These are: for representation, information distribution, research, artistic production, fundraising, lobbying and tactical communication. Representation refers to the act of establishing a kind of on-going presence for organizations and other movement actors. With ICT, organizations which are driven underground by extreme repressions can persistently exist, at least, virtually. Examples of these are Rawa.Org, which serves as a kind of virtual base for the members of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan; and the Glas.Org which continue to become a virtual meeting place for gays and lesbians who physically do not exist in Muslim countries and Arabic societies. <<Figure 1 here>> The importance of ICT in tactical communications particularly in organizing or coordinating collective actions is also hard to ignore. In 1999, cell phones and its accompanying technology, the short messaging system (SMS), together with e-mails, became the primary medium of coordinating the political actions of activists during the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle. With this, the centralized radio system of the police that the demonstrators were able to successfully held their activities. The use of cellphones for organizing and coordinating crowds was replicated in the Philippines in 2001. When the negative votes superseded the affirmative votes on the issue of whether or not to open the second envelope allegedly containing evidences against then-president Joseph Estrada at the height of the Impeachment Trial, text messages circulated urging everyone to gather at EDSA. In less than an hour, throngs of people converged and three days later, Estrada was was forced to leave Malacanang. As a Time Asia observer noted, the event was not really a matter of people power but technology power. Other large-scale demonstrations that relied on ICT, particularly the Internet, for coordinative purpose include the anti-Iraq invasion on February 15, 2003 which involved at least ten million people in over 600 cities, the G-8 protests in Evian, France, and the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. ICT also finds its importance in keeping alive banned conversations (Quezon 2006). A very good example is the tag-teaming against President Gloria Arroyo where bloggers and media mirrored and spread the data on the controversial Hello, Garci! recording.

Doing so is prohibited but in defying authorities, the public was given access to the facts and the choice of what and which to believe. Of course, ICT is also seen as an avenue for information and data gathering and sharing. Social activists are using the Internet for research of information relevant to their cause. But many don't just download data. They also upload information through their own or others' websites, blogs, chatrooms, and similar media. In so doing, they become both producers and consumers or pronsumers of information and data. The Wikipedia is an example of pronsumerism. It does not only serve as a free on-line encyclopedia but it is also an avenue for collaboration and volunteerism of information. Through Wikipedia, everyone can share what he or she knows by simply clicking the Edit this Page button on each article and enterring the information wished to be shared. As a result, Wikipedia now has 1.8 million articles in English, and hundreds of thousand articles in different languages. <<Figure 2 here.>> But more than information-sharing, ICT has later evolved as a tool for lobbying. Liverpool dockers who were sacked in 1995 for refusing to cross a picket line, for example, found the Internet as an avenue to discuss their situation. But as they were driven to a difficult situation because of Thatcher's anti-union laws, the dockers later decided to appeal for international support through e-mails and their website, the LabourNet. This led their Japanese and Canadian counterparts to send financial contributions and establish networks to support the cause. When calls to action were initiated in 1997, dockers, seafarers, and other workers in 27 countries and 105 ports took part in meetings and demonstrations at British Embassies and Consulates. The effect was described by one international union official as "the biggest international working class action for 100 years". When no action was still done to settle the case, the Neptune Jade, a ship from Britain with containers from Liverpool, was refused to unload in Oakland, California. This diverted the ship to Vancouver, Canada and then to Japan. Even then, Neptune Jade was also refused to unload. The Internet was said to have been used to track every move of the ship and prepare action against it. Because of this, the ship was eventually sold at Hong Kong together with its cargo because of the expenses it incurred. This action instilled fear among ship owners and their insurers that efforts were finally exerted to settle the Liverpool dispute. E-mails and the Internet, are also usable for exposing anti-people policies. For instance, Human Rights Watch tells the story of Sun Zhigang of China. Sun went to Guangzhou to seek employment but for lacking a special temporary residence permit, he was detained by the police, severely beaten and died a few days later in police custody. His story was forwarded in e-mails and electronic bulletin boards that senior Chinese legal scholars beganwas forced to take up the matter. As a result, reforms were introduced and these included the changing of migrant detention centers into voluntary service centers.

Irene Weiser, who describes herself as "an average citizen from upstate New York," also used the web to save the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). She created the web site and wrote heartfelt personal letters to everyone she knew urging them to do the same. In just 12 weeks, her e-mail and web campaign generated more than 160,000 e-mails to Congress. Some 36,000 people signed up for her e-mail alerts, and vowed to keep up the fight until the legislation passed. In October 2000, the Senate re-authorized VAWA unanimously, which President Bill Clinton signed into law a few days later. Aside from a source of information, ICT is also a potential media for artistic materials by artists involved in, associated with, or supportive of social movements. The Akbayan website, for example, published online Huwag kang Mang-go-Gloria, which is an alternative music criticizing President Arroyo. Others created the Hello, Garci! ringtones and Gloria jokes which were passed on from one cellphone to another. The Internet is also a medium for parody sites or the replicas of target sites that subtly alter wording or images to express activist viewpoints and discredit the target. Examples of parody sites include the GATT.Org which is a satirical site criticizing the World Trade Organization; the PLDT.Com which had been a subject of legal battles between the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company and Gerry Kaimo; and, the KGMA.Wordpress.Com which targets President Arroyo. KGMA.Wordpress.Com had been one of the most visited site in 2005. Lastly, because ICT allows fund transfers on-line, there are groups that utilized it for fund raising. One of the most famous is The Hunger Site ( which funnels dollars from banner ad clickthroughs into humanitarian relief efforts (Emerson 2005). Because of its operation, an estimated 27 million metric tons of food was distributed to millions of hungry people worldwide. Another effort is the Heifer Foundation Gift Catalog. Emerson describes The Catalog as an e-commerce site where you can purchase cows and goats which are distributed to families around the world that live in poverty. The site creates a strong sense of transparency, giving the impression that there is no question about what your money is funding. ICT Tools for social activists Because of these developments, a number of for-profit companies grew to provide ready made software systems for activists, non-profit organizations, or political campaigners to manage their activist database online. Emerson cites the Blue State Digital, LLC (, Grassroot Enterprise (, and GetActive ( as examples. But there are also those which offer free tools either free as in no cost, or free as in free to share or modify, or both. The list includes:

The Organizers Database (, which is a membership database program for Windows designed for small organizations to keep track of activist members or donors; The (, which is a public service offered by Capitol Advantage useful for lobbying members of the US Congress by fax or email via a Web interface; The Petition Site ( and Petition Online (, which offer free electronic petition hosting to anyone with an email address and even in a variety of languages; and, MySociety ( which is a charitable project that builds websites aimed at giving people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives.

Since blogs are a growing phenomena, entities also offer free web blog hostings and these include (, Live Journal (, and Xanga (, among others. Softwares utilizing the SMS technology are also made available for free. Examples are TXTMob and the Frontline SMS which are capable of text broadcasting to multiple users. TXTMob, developed by the Institute for Applied Autonomy, was first used for protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and the Republican National Convention in New York. On the otherhand, Frontline SMS, a stand-alone turn-key solution based on the short messaging system technology and is designed for use of NGOs, is currently being used for wildlife conservation in Africa. In the Philippines, the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD) and its partners also offer an SMS-based technology similar to the TxtXTMob. Baptized as HR-SOS, the technology is now being used for tracking Filipinos who are victims of human rights abuses abroad and those who are victims of repression under the Arroyo administration. The Limiting Characterisitics of ICT ICT, however, is not a magic bullet that can offer social activists an opportunity to immediately realize their agenda. This is because of its limiting chracteristics which include its non-exclusivity, access and the digital divide, and problems of security and anonymity. a. Non-exclusivity of ICT While ICT can speed-up the work of social activists, it can also facilitate the activities of conformists and conservatives. While it can be used as a tool for advancing democracy, it can also be utilized as an instrument of authoritarianism and despotism. This is because ICT is not exclusive for use by only a specific groups of people. Computers, for instance, were initially created by big governments and the military for the proliferation of

destructive and life-threatening weapons systems only to be transformed later into lifesaving machines. Hence, ICT can be considered as a double-edged sword the utility of which depends on who handles it. b. Access and the Digital Divide. Another major issue against ICT is access. Expounded in the concept of digital divide, ICT just widens the gap within and between societies in the access to information and communications networks and between the technological haves and the have-not. (Bridges.Org 2006; Sy 2002). It should be noted that ICT is a commodified product. With economic inequality, not all are given the opportunity to own, or at least access, ICT. As the data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) show, average number of cellphones per 100 inhabitants in developing countries is only 23 in the year 2004 as compared with developed countries having 91 in the same year. Luxembourg, for instance, has four extra cellphones for every 100 population as compared to Solomon Islands and Papua New Guiniea which respectively has two and three cellphones for every one thousand population. <<Insert Table 1 here>> While more than half of the population of rich countries also has personal computer units and can access internet, the figures are lamentable in poor countries. Eight out of ten Swiss, Americans and Swedes has personal computers while there is barely one unit for every 1000 Nigers, and one unit for every 500 Malawians, Chadians and Angolans. The figures, however, improved in 2005. The survey of the Computer Industry Almanac shows that developing countries like China, Indonesia, India, Brazil and Mexico already joined the top fifteen countries having high number of Internet users. Thus, as China Daily noted, while the number of people online continues to increase in all countries listed, the larger developing nations are seeing their percentage share of the worldwide internet audience grow rapidly. <<Table 2 here>> Similarly, the recent e-Readiness Survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, in cooperation with the IBM Institute for Business Value, also shows improvement that neoliberalist observers conclude the digital divide as narrowing. In the Philippines, for example, cellphone ownership increased threefold from 2001 to 2004 while personal computer ownership also doubled in the same period. <<Table 3 here>>

The narrowing digital divide is a result of the lively competition among market forces, the passage of e-commerce policies, and the rise of open source societies, among others. According to the e-Readiness Survey, Emerging markets are providing the vast majority of the world's new phone and Internet connections." For this, Peter Korsten, European Director at IBM's Institute for Business Value, claims that regions such as Shanghai in China and Bangalore in India have almost the same level of Internet and mobile-phone connections as developed nations. The entry of Sun Cellular in the Philippine mobile phone industry, for example, forced the leading Globe and Smart telecommunications to lower their prices. Aside from the unlimited free-text options, Globe, recently, has been advertising of a 90-centavos price per text despite the revised value added tax law which was seen to affect the industry. This was met by its biggest competitors, the Smart Communications with 80 centavos per text. The passage of laws encouraging the entry of ICT also explains why families in Africa earning below $2 a day have amounts to spare for cellphones and why villagers in the jungle provinces of Congo eagerly built 50-foot-high treehouses just to catch signals from distant cellphone towers (La Franiere 2005). The rise of open source societies and the building of open source softwares also narrowed the digital divide. With free and livre open source softwares (FLOSS), users were not only given cheaper or free programs and applications but were also empowered to modify and improve the same. c. Anonymity and Security According to Emerson, By default, every Web site you visit collects information about you: where you are located, what kind of computer you are using, and which Web site referred you to a given page. Similarly, every calls made either from a cellphone or from a regular telephone can also give information about the caller as well as the conversations that transpired during the call. Arroyo's belleaguered presidency, for example, is a product of a wiretapped conversations between her and Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano during the period of canvassing of votes. Though favorable to activists and the opposition, the case simply shows that ICT is also vulnerable to security breaches. If that happened to Arroyo, that can also happen to anybody. Generally, security breaches or intrusions in ICT are due to the following: the spread of wireless radio connections which opened new attack fronts, the widespread launch of open source and commercial softwares which has led to the production of faulty softwares, and the still well-known points of weakness that still have no solutions.

Security breaches or intrusions can be classified as follows:

virus contamination, worms and trojan horse attacks; theft of information equipments containing data (laptops, hard disks, floppy disks, tapes, etc.) denial of service piracy and information frauds (abuse of ICT resources, illegal copying of software or data, etc.) theft of information; and identity theft

While there are efforts to address these breaches, most are still at the users and organization levels. Governments still fail to enact policies that are supposed to prevent ICT security breaches and punish acts of intrusions to security and privacy. In the Philippines, for example, while there is an e-Commerce Law (Republic Act 8792) that encourages the use of ICT, there is no corresponding policy that protects users from hackers, cyber-terrorists, and thieves both of ICT equipment and information. To Use, or Not To Use ICT? In advancing activist work, and paraphrasing Shakespeare, the question now is: To use, or not to use ICT? In answering this question, it makes sense to consider the following: (a) That ICT is here to stay, (b) That employing ICT in activist work may not be applicable in all cases, and (c) That the security and, at most, the anonymity of social activists should not be compromised. Whether social activists will use it or not, ICT will exist and even continue to evolve. And whether or not social activists will try to maximize its utility, forces of counter-development (i.e., terrorists, despots, and the like) will continue to use ICT and advance their agenda. But if one prefers to use ICT, caution should be carefully exercised to avoid the danger of techno-romanticism that is, too much reliance on technologies. While ICT can give a 24-hour a day access anytime of the week, and while it promises local and global reach, it has been proven to be ineffective in areas and among communities with no supporting infrastructure. And this will remain as long as the digital divide exists. As Emerson correctly put it: Electronic campaigning techniques may work best when supplementing offline tactics... or may be entirely unsuitable given a campaigns intended audience, targets, timing, or resources. To effectively maximize the utility of ICT in the future, it is therefore suggested that social activists also include the narrowing or bridging of the digital divide in their advocacy agenda. Along with this also is the advocacy of increasing security features for ICT. This is because ICT is still not perfect and as such, user anonymity and data or information related to activist work remains hard to protect.

References Baily, Chris. (2006). The Liverpool Dockers, Tracking Magazine Online, Bridges.Org (2006) Overview of the Digital Divide. Chandler, Daniel (2002) Technological or Media Determinism, China Daily, The. China becomes second largest internet nation, Costanza-Chock, Sasha. (n.d.) Mapping the Repertoire of Electronic Contention, in Representing Resistance: Media, Civil Disobedience and the Global Justice Movement, eds. Andrew Opel and Donnalyn Pompper. Greenwood, in press. Ellis, Eric. (2001) How Text Messaging Toppled Joseph Estrada, Times Asia Online. Emerson, John. (2005) An Introduction to Activism in the Internet. Hamelink, Cees J. (1997) New Information and Communication Technologies, Social Development and Cultural Change, UNRISD Discussion Paper No. 86, UNRISD: Switzerland Harkin, James. (2003) Mob Rules. Human Rights Watch. (2004) Chinese Protest Online: The Case of Sun Zhigang. Lafraniere, Sharon (2005) Cellphone catapult rural Africa to 21st century, The New York Times, Martin, Brian (2001). Technology for Nonviolent Struggle. London: War Resisters' International Quezon, Manuel III. (2006) Tag-teaming against the President: Philippine case study on how bloggers and minstream media kept a banned conversation going and online. Presented during the Conference on Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace: A Conference of Asian Bloggers, Podcasters and Online Media, April 19-21 2006 Reuters, Study: World's digital divide is narrowing, Sy, Peter A. (2002). The Digital Divide and Rule: Grappling With the NewRhetoric of Development, Kasarinlan, Vol 17 (2) UP: Third World Studies Center Williams, Brian K., Stacey C. Sawyer, and Sarah E. Hutchinson. (1998) Using Information Technology: A Practical Introduction to Computers and Communications, Second Ed., Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill

Williams, Robin and David Edge (1996), The Social Sharing of Technology, as published in Research Policy Vol. 25, pp. 856-899

Figures and Tables Figure 1. The Homepage of Glas.Org

Figure 2. The Wikipedia Homepage

Table 1. Cellphones, Internet Users and PCs by Country Classification, 2004

Cellphone Country Subscribers Per Classification 100 inhabitants Internet Users per 100 Inhabitants PCs Per 100 inhabitants

Developing Transition Developed

23.08 45.16 91.2

8.75 17.89 51.24

5.86 13.83 53.06

Table2. Top 15 Countries in Internet Usage, 2005.

Country 1. USA 2. China 3. Japan 4. India 5. Germany 6. UK 7. South Korea 8. Italy 9. France 10. Brazil 11. Russia 12. Canada 13. Indonesia 14. Mexico 15. Spain Top 15 Countries Worldwide Total Internet Users (in Millions) 197.80 119.50 86.30 50.60 46.30 35.80 33.90 28.80 28.80 25.90 23.70 21.90 18.00 16.90 15.80 750.00 1081.00 Share (In Percent) 18.30 11.10 8.00 4.70 4.30 3.30 3.10 2.70 2.70 2.40 2.20 2.00 1.70 1.60 1.50 69.40 100.00

Source:Computer Industry Almanac

Table 3. Telephones, PC Units, Cellphones and Internet Usersper 100 inhabitants per year in the Philippines , 2001-2004 Telephones PC Units Internet Users (per 100 (per 100 Cellphones (per (per 100 Year inhabitants) inhabitants) 100 inhabitants) inhabitants) 2001 15.47 1.70 12.20 2.00 2002 18.69 2.20 15.38 3.50 2003 25.85 2.85 22.51 4.00 2004 36.37 3.68 32.94 4.40 Source: International Telecommunications Union

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