Technological Emergence
 


Raoni Rajão

Aid Work and Technology in Kenya

Kenya_AidWorker.jpgWhile browsing on the Internet I came across a blog that posted a selection of the 45 most powerful images f 2011 (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-most-powerful-photos-of-2011). As expected the list included pictures illustrating some of the most significative events of the year, such as the10th anniversary of 9/11 and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But towards the end of the list, in position 38, I saw a picture with the following caption "An aid worker using an iPad captures an image of a dead cow's decomposing carcass in Wajir near the Kenya-Somalia border on July 23". The Reuters' photographer that took the picture explained in a interview the history behind the picture:

"I almost didn't take the photograph," he says. "I'd been walking through a remote Kenyan village near the border with Somalia shadowing a group of United Nations bosses who were there to see the impact of the recently declared Somali famine and region-wide drought. I'd become tired of such trips over the years, which I blogged about for Reuters here, and was particularly struck that day by the often surreal nature of the African aid circus. When I saw this official dressed in a suit and using an iPad to film a dead cow, I just stood and stared, pretty sure I had rarely seen anything so strange and incongruous, such an odd meeting of a world filled with ultra-modern developments and one trapped in a cycle of age-old problems. I finally snapped the picture just seconds before the man stood and caught me standing behind him" (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=248333).

I believe this picture poses some interesting questions for scholars and partitioners that are interested in studying the role technology in southern countries from the same critical perspective as the photographer that took this picture. In particular, some of the questions that popped into my mind when I first saw this picture were:
Should we really care about ICT while there are so many other more pressing issues?
Is ICT bringing local governments, international aid agencies and other actors closer or more distant from the problems they are suppose to tackle?
What is the Southern and what is Northern in this picture? Does an African UN official using an Ipad fit in this sort of binary distinction?
I hope to hear your thoughts on the matter!

10 Comments


  • Thank you so much for finding this photograph that tells such a complex story.

    I wonder what the aid worker did with the video he shot of the dead cow? And what about the family that owned this cow? In this case, the cow stands in for a large environmental disaster of drought and climate change that is as much a consequence of technological demands as it is a symbol of technological outcomes. The people who owned this cow feel the consequences of the devices, but I wonder what benefits they may experience from technological development.

    In some ways, the technologies that enable the aid worker to film the dead cow with an iPad have also created demands for resources, etc. that bring about climate change and drought.

  • EDIT: Early apology for the incomplete thoughts. There's a lot going on here...

    >What is the Southern and what is Northern in this picture? Does an African UN official using an Ipad fit in this sort of binary distinction?

    Perhaps out of my own ignorance, I have to begin by asking this another way:

    1. In which directions do the framing devices in this photograph point?

    2. And further, (if we want to play around with this physical field interaction metaphor) what causes their attraction toward either of these coercive regimes?

    3. And I guess even further (if we want to play around with binaries - north, south, positive, negative, etc.), what does each give up when assuming a specific alignment? Perhaps this is part of the cause; maybe there is some value in this alignment. What is it?

    To me, if I'm understanding the thrust of your question correctly, I am seeing a sort of representation inversion happening. An inversion in the sense of the viewer, and in turn, of the subject. While the photograph is outwardly framed as,

    "Quite the unusual sight to behold!"

    there is an expectation held by the subject (the iPad) to imagine what this man is seeing. Or maybe more to the point, to imagine what I – the iPad, the subject – am showing him.

    I preemptively apologize for taking such an obvious and clumsy path toward situationist criticism, but again, this photograph to me is not about what the photographer sees, or what the man sees, it's about what the iPad shows, and what the iPad sees. Some would argue that it's about the man's intent, his vision for what was to appear on the iPad and then be communicated to the rest of the world. That he holds this grand authority over representation. But I can't reconcile that. The significance of this photograph is that a non-human device is telling the entire story from beginning to end. It's as if everything in the photograph is seen from the iPad's point of view.

    So to me, the framing devices revolve around two things:

    1. iPad seeing, and
    2. iPad showing

    That is, everything in the photograph is real because, and only because, the iPad validates it. What is given up in turn for this alignment is representational power, which the iPad will exert to coerce you from other representational modes. In this sense the iPad is both an actor and a stage. And it is this duality that brings me to my final point:

    The only place death (or life for that matter) is real in this photograph is within the iPad.

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