First, some thanks
Because I'm a writer, I will put my thoughts about this collection in writing. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this project that I think I will make this reflection a series of installments about this experience, which started back in 2009 and 2010 as I planned a trip to Lubumbashi and then made this life-changing visit. So thinking about wrapping up this project feels like wrapping up a chapter of my life.
First, I want to remember and thank *all* the people who have traveled with me on this journey. My friend Remy Mwamb in Lubumbashi who contributed his work to the digital collection. (Remy is on the left in this photo.) My friends from Katanga now live in my heart, even though we are in different parts of the world. I think of life differently after meeting them and I dedicate this collection to my friends and colleagues in Lubumbashi.
My generous colleagues Ricardo Duque and Raoni Rajao who continue to point out to me the merits of my work, even when I cannot see them. You have given me the strength to go on when the path ahead was dark to my eyes.
All the generous people who participated in the colloquium last April 2011 in the video studio at the University of Minnesota. That was such a generative experience and your energy kept me going throughout the day. The video records we have in the collection are a testimony to the good work that you all contributed. I especially want to recognize impeccable planning of Laura Pigozzi and David Lindeman that made us all feel so at home in the video studio.
And, of course, where would we be without the overwhelming support of the collection development team: Shane Nackerud, Mauricio Mejia, Josh Welsh, and Cristina Lopez. I have to again give a HUGE THANK YOU to the John Butler, Shane, and the University of Minnesota Libraries for their open-arms welcome of this collection project. And soon it will be in their hands for archiving.
And then some thoughts about the project
I envisioned this collection as a place where people could discuss issues in technology development and diffusion across the North-South global divide. We started the discussion at the colloquium, but that was necessarily a limited discussion because, primarily, of funding and ability to travel. We could not include a significant number of colleagues from the South, but we did invite people at the University of Minnesota and in the Twin Cities who were from the South or who could represent the worldviews of people in this part of the world. Of the three dozen people participating in the colloquium, I think we had a remarkable cross-section of viewpoints and life experiences. I heard a number of people comment that day that they never would have come in contact with such a diverse and interdisciplinary group of folks outside this event. So I thought we did a pretty good job of hearing from a variety of viewpoints and experiences, even though we drew mainly from people in our local area.
But we did invite people from other parts of the world to join us, both in person and via Skype and video. So one thing that I was pleased with was our ability to reach out to different locations even though the budget for this event allowed us only to bring in two participants. The Skype connections were problematic with the video studio equipment, especially the audio, which tended to loop and distort. But even with some technology glitches, we were able to have people from distant places join our discussions and I think we got a sense of their presence. This is especially evident in the Resilient Technologies segment where the discussants end up talking to Donna DeGennaro on the computer screen as if she is actually with us in the room. This segment doesn't make for great video from a director's standpoint. But as a person who studies information technologies, I was captivated by the fact that we quickly accepted Donna's screen image via Skype as just another participant in the room. People talked to the laptop computer as if it was Donna herself. This said to me that the technology "worked" even though we weren't able to project Donna's image onto the large screen in the room (a technological "failure" in one sense).
What I learned from this project is that the collection mainly depended on personal relationships. Of course, I knew that the collection would not get good participation simply by putting it up for contributions. So I spent some months promoting the collection at conferences, workshops, via email messages, etc., etc. just like I was on a book tour. But in the end, our contributions have come as a result of personal relations. This says to me that as connected and open as we would like our work to be, we still rely on the relations we build with people in a physical world. This is kind of disappointing in the sense that it is still so difficult to build bridges across our global divides. But in another sense, our inclination to continue to value relationships build in the physical world is kind of reassuring that we are still human. On further thought, this human-ness is definitely a double-edged sword that keeps us apart as much as it keeps us together. So I guess I come away from this project with a feeling of ambivalence.
I have talked with Raoni Rajao and Josh Welsh about my feeling of failure about this project, but they assure me that we have learned a great deal from this experiment in alternative publishing. Raoni sees this type of project as a good way to continue discussions begun in conferences and workshops and I agree that this type of collection would be a useful addition to traditional, in-person meetings. The thing that frustrates me about these meetings is that our work is so ephemeral and disappears once we leave the room. The purpose of this colloquium and collection was to make this work more permanent and to create a venue for adding to the work. I think the project has achieved those objectives.
Our intrepid content manager Josh probably has a better sense of the scope of contributions to the collection than I do. He reminds me that we have added some significant contributions to the collection during the past year and our map tags show us that we have had collaborators from a good portion of the world. And Josh is right, we have been able to add significant work over the year.
So to end this installment of my reflections, I have to say that we make progress one step at a time. This past year we have started a new discussion about information and communication technologies and their diffusion between people in the global North and South. In the course of this project, I have met and worked with people who I never would have known without undertaking this journey. And I have strengthened connections to people I have met and worked with in other projects. It has been a good year. As we come to the end of this project, I want to again express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has come on this journey and has breathed their own life into it.