A List of Completely Wrong Assumptions About Technology Use in Emerging Economies

I’ve spent the past week at the iLab in Liberia and got what I came for: an updated reality check on the limitations of technology adoption in developing countries. Below are some of the assumptions that I took for granted. They’re perfectly obvious in hindsight and I’m annoyed at myself for not having realized their obviousness sooner. I’d be very interested in hearing from others about these and reading their lists. This need not be limited to one particular sector like ICT for Development (ICT4D) or Mobile Health (mHealth). Many of these assumptions have repercussions across multiple disciplines.

The following examples come from conversations with my colleague Kate Cummings who directs Ushahidi Liberia and the iLab here in Monrovia. She and her truly outstanding team—Kpetermeni Siakor, Carter Draper, Luther Jeke and Anthony Kamah—spearheaded a number of excellent training workshops over the past few days. At one point we began discussing the reasons for the limited use of SMS in Liberia. There are the usual and obvious reasons. But the one hurdle I had not expected to hear was Nokia’s predictive text functionality. This feature is incredibly helpful since the mobile phone basically guesses which words you’re trying to write so you don’t have to type every single letter.

But as soon as she pointed out how confusing this can be, I immediately understood what she meant. If I had never seen or been warned about this feature before, I’d honestly think the phone was broken. It would really be impossible to type with. I’d get frustrated and give up (the tiny screen further adds to the frustration). And if I was new to mobile phones, it wouldn’t be obvious how to switch that feature off either. (There are several tutorials online on how to use the predictive text feature and how to turn it off, which clearly proves they’re not intuitive).

In one of the training workshops we just had, I was explaining what Walking Papers was about and how it might be useful in Liberia. So I showed the example below and continued talking. But Kate jumped in and asked participants: “What do you see in this picture? Do you see the trees, the little roads?” She pointed at the features as she described the individual shapes. This is when it dawned on me that there is absolutely nothing inherently intuitive about satellite images. Most people on this planet have not been on an airplane or a tall building. So why would a bird’s eye view of their village be anything remotely recognizable? I really kicked myself on that one. So I’ll write it again: there is nothing intuitive about satellite imagery. Nor is there anything intuitive about GPS and the existence of a latitude and longitude coordinate system.

Kate went on to explain that this kind of picture is what you would see if you were flying high like a bird. That was the way I should have introduced the image but I had taken it completely for granted that satellite imagery was self-explanatory when it simply isn’t. In further conversations with Kate, she explained that they too had made that assumption early on when trying to introduce the in’s and out’s of the Ushahidi platform. They quickly realized that they had to rethink their approach and decided to provide introductory courses on Google Maps instead.

More wrong assumptions revealed themselves during the workshpos. For example, the “+” and “-” markers on Google Map are not intuitive either nor is the concept of zooming in and out. How are you supposed to understand that pressing these buttons still shows the same map but at a different scale and not an entirely different picture instead? Again, when I took a moment to think about this, I realized how completely confusing that could be. And again I kicked myself. But contrast this to an entirely different setting, San Francisco, where some friends recently told me how their five year old went up to a framed picture in their living room and started pinching at it with his fingers, the exact same gestures one would use on an iPhone to zoom in and out of a picture. “Broken, broken” is all the five year old said after that disappointing experience.

The final example actually comes from Haiti where my colleague Chrissy Martin is one of the main drivers behind the Digicel Group’s mobile banking efforts in the country. There were of course a number of expected challenges on the road to launching Haiti’s first successful mobile banking service, TchoTcho Mobile. The hurdle that I had not expected, however, had to do with the pin code. To use the service, you would enter your own personal pin number on your mobile phone in order to access your account. Seems perfectly straight forward. But it really isn’t.

The concept of a pin number is one that many of us take completely for granted. But the idea is often foreign to many would-be users of mobile banking services and not just in Haiti. Think about it: all one has to do to access all my money is to simply enter four numbers on my phone. That does genuinely sound crazy to me at a certain level. Granted, if you guess the pin wrong three times, the phone gets blocked and you have to call TchoTcho’s customer service. But still, I can understand the initial hesitation that many users had. When I asked Chrissy how they overcame the hurdle, her answer was simply this: training. It takes time for users to begin trusting a completely new technology.

So those are some of the assumptions I’ve gotten wrong. I’d be grateful if readers could share theirs as there must be plenty of other assumptions I’m making which don’t fit reality. Incidentally, I realize that emerging economies vary widely in technology diffusion and adoption—not to mention sub-nationally as well. This is why having the iLab in Liberia is so important. Identifying which assumptions are wrong in more challenging environments is really important if our goal is to use technology to help contribute meaningfully to a community’s empowerment, development and independence.

86 responses to “A List of Completely Wrong Assumptions About Technology Use in Emerging Economies

  1. Kay Vasilyeva

    Upon sharing digital maps from my ipad with locals in Turkey, I stumbled on another related factor: One has to also account for how different cultures perceive maps – not all of them well. Until Google Maps arrived in Istanbul, there apparently were no good maps of the city as part of it’s defense strategy. Then Google came and there was not much people could do – except get around easier. Before, people knew their neiborhoods intimately, and asked for directions if they needed to (although direction-giving is also an interesting art in Istanbul, which leads me to believe that the city has tense overall relations with maps, coordinates, and directions). So there I was, sticking a digital map into a local shop-keeper’s hands, hoping he can help me find a small alley because of course there are no street signs (another piece of evidence to my point). The street was not very far away, in the same old town compound, and since he owns a shop here he must surely know it. He turned the device upside down, left, right, although the main street was marked and clearly oriented in our direction. I pointed it out. He got another guy to help. The two of them finally found my turn – just two blocks away – and the second guy said in very decent English that they have never seen a map of that area before. A map of an old town that thousands of tourist with a copy of Lonely Planet have stumbled through! How interesting!

    • Hi Kay, many thanks for sharing, really insightful and very interesting!

      Your example reminded me of an excellent book I started reading a while ago (and have alas yet to finish) called “The Power of Maps” by Dennis Wood and John Fels (http://www.amazon.com/Power-Maps-Denis-Wood/dp/0898624932). In one of the early chapters, the authors are complaining about the widespread belief that maps are as old as humanity and therefore intuitive. They go back through history and argue that maps really begin to surface in the 1500’s/1600’s (if I remember correctly). And those maps were certainly not free or “open source” rather proprietary and accessible only by the elite (aka educated classes). Your example is a really good reality check. Reading a map is hardly intuitive.

      Thanks again for sharing!

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  3. I taught mapmaking in Uganda with OLPC. The first hurdle was convincing kids that the national map was not just a symbol, like a flag. The satellite photos were their first encounter with maps of places they had seen and roads they had traveled, so it was confusing at first. One class with a photo and stickers made a huge difference. We had students running outside to compare the schoolyard to their map, geotag photos, and figure out which building our class was in.

    What I’m saying is, we don’t have to go into space to understand a globe. Maps can make sense. We just need to put training and education first.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing, especially in such a humble way. About a year ago, our organization shared a slideshow of pictures from space with our community in Cambodia — images of the planets, moons, etc. They were completely amazed, especially the older people, who had never seen anything like them before. Years later, they still talk about those pictures.

  5. Even though this is obvious I would assume that some people have curiosity. One interesting thing of unofficial learning is that we learn by association, experience and curiosity. Simply by touching something happens. Curiosity makes us to find out if it happens again. Sometimes I think people have unlearned their basic skills as to come from an unfamiliar concept to a familiar one. This is one of our greatest accomplishments when regarding learning. A truelly big leap we should not take for granted. That is why informal learning is so valuable. It is the intrinsic capacity to learn.

  6. This is definitely so revealing… I’ve got quite a number of experiences but mostly from courses I taught and explaining concepts that seemed to fathomed…

    Another experience I had was with a client… who wants to implement a mobile money service with a reservation system of some kind (this happens to coincide with an idea that AgileFarm is developing on yet another mobile money API, if one doesn’t exist already), so this dude I spoke to was like, “…please get a way to by-pass the networks…” this literarily meant the dude wanted to cut out the Big Elephant in the room: The Telcos (MTN, UTL, Warid, and others… mostly Ugandan). I had to backtrack a bit and explain more about Licenses… I’ve realized that folks jumping on the Tech-bandwagon need to be re-educated but more importantly this has to be distilled and contextually furnished in order to have great impact to the users (clients, and guys at the bottom of the Pyramid)… this was quite an ordeal you had too… 🙂

  7. The technology adoption lifecycle gets depicted as a normal curve, an elevation, over time. It is a trip. Everyone has a location on that curve. It isn’t that this group is slower than that group. It is that a technology is addressible to only to a small portion of that normal curve at any one time.

    The issues you bring up are cultural. Cultures are idiomatic. A country is not built on railhead languages. Reaching these people involves more than the interface or view. It involves the underlying model. Cultures are about models more so that interfaces.

    We can modularize to meet the needs of our globalization program. We can internationalize to reach out to the railhead languages. Then, we localize to change the language that appears in our view. That language is a changing body of symbols and across the technology adoption lifecycle, we end up modifying that language and the intensity of control expressed by the various input controls. Moore called this latter necessity task sublimation, the conversion form geek to consumer–a change of population across the technology adoption lifecycle. We do both of these things without changing the model.

    Since we are focused on carriers–s/w and h/w–rather than the carried the model, the model can change without our awareness of that change. Typically, that would be a technological change in itself one that just isn’t high tech. Software is a media, so it is a carrier that has carried signals beat into it just like a radio station playing in your car. Only the carried is about meaning. The carrier is the alphabet.

    The changes in devices that these days is heralded as innovation is also described in terms of positions on the technology adoption lifecycle. They are not surprising. These changes are task sublimation expressions, so they represent changes in populations. Seeing those populations in isolation helps us to get away from averages. We hid a lack of meaning fitness in those averages. UX standards tend to exacerbate the loss of meaning fitness in the inherent convergence towards standards. The world isn’t standardized. Why would a culture let that happen to them. France is French, so they demand new words. That’s their push back.

    GPS devices eliminate geospatial intuition even in Americans. Dependence on GPS devices means never taking a look at the global view of the geography we travel through. You don’t have to go to other countries where their rich cultural tradition is idiomatic to our own.

  8. In the Middle East, the boundaries between public and private are different.

    Property requires particular law. Those laws require property lines and other metadata. None of that metadata is obvious or free even where it exists and is understood. .

    In the Slovic notion of time, time is not an arrow. Time does not pass through. Instead, we pass through a succession of immortal containers of time. We enter. We depart. The moment remains. This is deeply embedded in Russian literature. If nobody tells you its there. You will never see it.

    An IT person would see this notion of time as a silo that needed to be busted. Technologists are oblivious to culture, except in the graphic artists branding exercises at creating culture. We do not code as if culture has a significant role in what we call “use.”

  9. Really nice post and have to agree that your humble openness about finding misconceptions in your area of expertise should be a model for all us digital hot-shots (or our politicians, for that matter) – M 😉

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  11. I’m Kenyan and find this post very very interesting. We don’t really use maps here…actualy can’t recall any Kenyan I know using a map, we give directions using landmarks such as “the really big stone”, “The tree with purple leaves”, and “that house painted like a cake”. You can therefore imagine me holding a map and getting so frustrated when I tried to get around Scotland as a student over there, and my classmates from all over europe not really understanding why I couldn’t just make my way around using the map. I can tell you, there’s a huge difference between looking at things on the ground and looking at things from a bird’s eye view. As we speak, I use internet banking in Nairobi, which most people have resisted, and I think this is because its not as simple as everyone thinks to navigate around these websites for the first time. We are however, doing really well with MPesa – mobile money, my grandma knows how to use this including pin numbers etc. My guess is it has to do with how it was sold.

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  14. Really interesting post. Maybe instead of showing Maps you can try with images of the landmarks around (like StreetView in Google Maps) and then the birds eye view. This way you can associate the street name and other parameters on a map with what you normally would use for navigation like a red building around the corner. But then again I could be wrong…

  15. John Palmkvistt

    This is a story told many times in Liberia. People often come to Liberia with good intentions of doing something to help, only to find that they weren’t ready to give that help, but instead needed and education. Liberia and its people are always ready to educate and allow experimentation by the endless stream of strangers coming to offer help. The trick to following through with the original good intention is to stay long enough to learn something, or to return at a later date, to reciprocate the pricelessness of the Liberian style education. This post is a good start in the right direction.

  16. Hey Patrick

    Absolutely, we’re not born with the ability to use maps (or Ushahidi or OSM :), but in my experience, everyone has an innate spatial sense, and training in spatial technologies should build off that. It doesn’t take very long to get people understanding maps, and then digital maps, if it’s kept in mind.

    We have a couple techniques to approach this, from the Map Kibera experiences. First, start with paper maps (aerial and vector) and hand drawn maps … even if the project involved digital technologies. This gets the distraction of the technology out of the way and focuses on spatial sense. Maps of people’s home neighborhoods allow you to invite them to locate their home places, other local landmarks. Once they get a little context, it’s amazing to see folks light up with recognition and then excited exploration. Many folks in Kibera got emotional the first time they see the map. A little bit about how we use paper maps:


    Second technique is to visualize traces from GPS. Folks familiar with mobile phones pick up GPS use pretty quickly. After a short data collection exercise, we can take all the traces, and turn them into visualizations like this one:

    This instantly draws the connection between their physical movement in space, and the two dimensional map representation. The usual response is pretty awesome, we have to hit reply about 10 times!


  17. What a wonderful and much-needed post! I lived in Haiti last year and Vietnam the year before that. Those of us who come from first-world countries are often blinded to our own inability to see. I fought technology challenges every single day in Haiti. I leaned a lot. I will never be the same!

  18. What an interesting read- and full of “obvious” observations that somehow are so un-obvious to us who are used to seeing satellite images etc. I have to say- the Nokia “guessing the word” feature is annoying and confusing even for me- and I tend to keep it turned off… no wonder people are struggling with it!

  19. I loved the article! I am from Russia where mobile technology has taken a front seat in communication. The people of Russia love their cell phones and have come up with tricks that the US doesn’t use. It is very interesting to see what other nations are doing and how they use the new technology to better their lives.

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  21. That is amazing! The things you learn reading blogs. No wonder it’s addictive. Thanks for sharing.

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  23. Very insightful post. I once read that “culture is communication and communication is culture”. It’s really a different body of knowledge and experience over there.

  24. As a graphical representation of a physical phenomenon maps are anything but intuitive. As any Geography teacher will attest the art of map reading is very akin to learning a language; with a tool set that needs to be continually expande ie: the concept that an aerial photograph can show a completely alien viewpoint of something that might be inherantly familiar; the use of symbols as placeholders for actual physical things. Of course lack of literacy in many countries will also hold back an inherant ability to quickly pick up on skills such as map reading. One must also take into account how Western orientated much of technologies ui is.

  25. Thanks Eva, it’s incredible how when we take a few minutes to think about it (usually after someone else points it out to us), that we can see just how many “built in” assumptions we have. Truly mind opening.

  26. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve never been out of the country so these experiences are something I’ve never had to face. One day I hope to broaden my horizon’s and experience life in another country.

  27. Unlike most of the commenter’s here I have never taught in a foreign nation, nor have I taught anything as advanced as it sounds that these individuals have. What I have taught is a proprietary software package to Americans. The software, built on a Windows platform, seemed pretty straight forward. It was simply moving experienced individuals from a manual system to a digital system. I was amazed at how many of the trainees were unable to, not only grasp the ‘intuitive’ software, but were also basically Windows illiterate. While I think many would like to assume that ‘first nations’ are savvier than emerging nations, I feel safe in stating that this assumption also is false.
    I would be interested to see how many Americans:
    1) can successfully follow maps
    2) how well they can view a satellite image of their area and pick out their own neighborhood, or home for that matter without using the zoom features (even then I must admit I have a bit of trouble orientating myself to the buildings and streets until I study the image very carefully.)
    3) As much as we would like to believe Americans to be technically advanced, it has been my experience that aside from pockets of highly educated individuals, many Americans have no idea how to operate many advanced technologies (or operate it properly and to its full potential).
    4) I believe the assumption of superior technical savvy to be not only incorrect, but overstated even in ‘first world’ nations. (As I believe can be attested to by nations such as; Great Britain, France, Germany and even Japan. Again, I believe there are pockets of highly technically advanced individuals, but there are also many pockets of technologically illiterate individuals.)
    Finally, I agree with the vast amount of the post. Education (and it must be education that is geared toward the students best form of learning) will continue to be the biggest issue facing technological growth World Wide.

    • You’re absolutely right, Bev, many thanks for sharing. One need not travel thousands of miles away to find that our assumptions are completely wrong. I’ve been working on a project called PeaceTXT with CeaseFire in Chicago. The CeaseFire project seeks to interrupt & reduce the number of “gang” killings that take place in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. The PeaceTXT initiative is trying to see how mobile technologies might help the CeaseFire group scale their work. It was very insightful to learn how young people use (or don’t) mobile phones and other technologies in Chicago.

  28. I enjoyed your post! I find it interesting to think how technology has changed our perception of our world. The examples of the satellite picture and the kid trying to pinch a picture are perfect examples. I have to think: before maps were commonly used, I am not sure that most people had any concept of a top-down representation of the world; either a road map, city diagram, or even the shape of their country. “Country” might very well have been a much more abstract term, lacking definite boundaries; France is just “over there,” on the other side of the Rhine or that forest.

    How our view of the world has changed!

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  30. As a person who studies decision making I saw your problem as a problem in perception. We live so deeply in our own perception of reality that we are like fish in water. We are raised in a culture and soak up attitudes and unvoiced common ideas. Our experiences influence our perceptions . When we communicate within our native culture we are effective because we have common way of perceiving things. The more common our experience the easier to communicate.
    Thank for sharing your experience. It sounds like it changed your perceptions about communication. You live and learn.

  31. Ah! Talk about that cross mark, one of the reasons my father steadfastly doesn’t use anything digital.
    In the US, putting a cross mark in a check box means “select”. In India, it means “cancel” – and “cancel” only.

    Also, my father’s another puzzle was “Why do I have to click on “start” in order to stop that computer?”

  32. How very true! And yet, another wrong assumption is to wrongly assume that a particular group may not be able to use new and unfamiliar tools. Steve Saint (www.itecusa.org) narrates in his book, END OF THE SPEAR, how the Waodani Indians in Ecuador were able to read a map, like experts, the very first time they saw one. They were able to pinpoint on the map the exact location for building an airstrip for their village. Another incident he narrates is how quickly two members from the tribe learnt to drive cars with ease when they visited the US.

    • Fascinating, many thanks for sharing, Elizabeth. Does Steve Saint provide any explanation on why the Waodani Indians found map reading perfectly intuitive? Why are maps intuitive for some communities and not for others?

      • I don’t recall reading an explanation, Patrick. Perhaps it would be helpful to put the question directly to Steve Saint. Following is the contact information for I-TEC (Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center) –
        Email: itec@itecusa.org
        Mailing Address: 10575 SW 147th Circle, Dunnellon, FL 34432
        Phone: (352) 465-4545
        Fax: (815) 377-3694

      • You’re a Star, thanks very much, Elizabeth

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  34. Hey Patrick,
    thanks a lot for this great, vivid post. This is one of our major problems in the global society: People often cannot imagine in which ways other people in other situations, on other parts of the planet think. And it is the other way round, too: If a girl or guy from there describes me something I would have to ask a lot of “silly” questions in order to understand everything.
    What does this mean for efficient cooperation within humanity? We must communicate much more patiently with eachother than we do today. Political and economic decisions are often too fast.
    We also work on this kind of issue in order to have a peaceful society in the future. If interested, just read http://globalsocietyblog.wordpress.com

    Thanks again,

  35. If you want to find out what is intuitive on a computer, just sit with a parent, or some one age 60 and over. This will shine a great light for you. It’s difficult to have enough patience and compassion to (try) to educate my aunt on technological equipment. The fact that she uses a computer at work doesn’t help. You would think that it would…
    Training? Oh, yes. I am trainer. And I train her on the same functions repeatedly. Some people’s brains just work differently. Who are we to say that the people in third world countries need training?

    It’s simply amazing the things we take for granted in this technologically dependent society which we have created. Four digits stand between my money and me? Straight up, that concerns me! We are becoming less dependent on people, and more dependent on computerized systems to do our work. Vulnerability forms in these open spaces, it’s like an unguarded house. Where are the dogs!? These systems are not secure, and are being pushed to market in the spirit of time-based competition. Our society could learn a thing or two from your technically challenged focus groups.

    I love the story about the little child trying to zoom into a photograph on the wall. Funny, and classic. How is this child different than a population that doesn’t understand a PIN? This child doesn’t understand the concept of a still photograph. I ask you, what is more real?

    • Yes indeed, I just taught my parents last week about Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, Google+ and the iPad. What I also find interesting is all the post-it’s with reminders about how to carry out certain functions–clearly not intuitive otherwise there’d be no need for post-it’s.

      Nice take on the story about the little child trying to zoom into a hard copy picture : )

  36. Regarding ‘perspectives’, I read a very well laid-out article (in lay terms) a year or so ago that was fascinating to me, along the lines of this discussion. It was about cultural differences in frames of reference and the language that thereby accompanies it. There is the egocentric ‘method’ of describing coordinates/giving directions (“the cat is to the right of the dog”); and two allocentric ‘methods’: the object-centered method of describing coordinates/giving directions (like “the cat is on the dog’s right”; no “I” involved); and absolute coordinates method where north/south/west/east is used to describe positions/give directions (“the cat is north of the dog”; also no “I” involved).

    I am no expert on this, and I had to do some searching around to find these terms and remind me of the finer points. Unfortunately I didn’t find that exact article which had really laid it out well. I do remember an example of a tribal culture where, no matter whether they can see the stars or sun or not, they intuitively know their cardinal directions (!!!), and that’s what they use to describe a thing’s place/position. It’s interesting to think about the implications of these methods, e.g. the egocentric method of always describing something else’s position in relation to one’s self, and how that affects the way we see the world really. I find it fascinating.

    Here was one journal article that came up about frames of reference and language. http://spatiallearning.org/bibliography_pdfs/the_case_for_space.pdf

  37. Great post! I especially thought it was fascinating to put myself in the shoes of someone who has never seen a satellite image before.

    I wrote a similar post about how technology has changed people’s lives – especially those in poverty. I mostly focus on lower level technological advancements and how they have dramatically increased the productivity of the world: http://davidmichaelangelosilva.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/does-technology-make-life-better-the-world-a-better-place/

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  40. Hi. I really admire your humility to admit an oversight. Not all scientists/ bloggers would admit that.
    In the Phils, internet connection is still a huge problem. I am working with some students in my univ on ICT4D projects using mapping as a tool. A major disadvantage of Google maps is its dependency on the internet. Our rural communities don’t have the facility for that. Hence we use a good quality image map of the barangay (or community) area & the surrounding villages or towns. We do our simulations or overlay analysis on top of the image maps. One of my groups has used Grass and Hecras for the dam simulation. Again, these are things we can do without being too dependent on live maps. We prefer to use incident reporting or escalation or even volunteer mobilization thru SMS broadcasted or reported to a web system or a social network. Most Filipinos will have cellphones even in the rural areas. But these phones are the 2nd to 2.5 generation phones, sometimes second hand. Most of us don’t use the predictive text facility but we have our own SMS Taglish (Tagalog-English) lingo and we are very fast ‘texters’. So even with not-advanced phones & limited resources we try to device effective ways to reach our constituents or for them to report to the local government unit.

    In the last elections, Google & a local group of programmers made use of Ushahidi tools as well to monitor Phil election incidents (http://ushahidi.votereportph.org/). Another example is the mobile banking in the Phils which is quite very strong especially in the rural areas. Our local telcos provide services permitting our small livelihood owners perform various types of transactions inc. remittances& banking thru their not-advanced phones but in a very creative process. 😉 (http://www.manilatimes.net/business/rural-banks-expand-mobile-phone-banking-in-the-countryside/).
    I appreciate the sharing on this page. Have a good day!

  41. Dear all, dear Patrick,
    Thank you for this great blog post and all the wonderful and interesting reactions and examples. I work a lot with maps and have been to Africa a lot of times. The last time I witnessed how the first computer was handed over to the teachers of a small village. Although they had had ICT training, they clearly wouldn’t find their way around the computer and the internet if there wasn’t going to be anybody around to help.
    This inspired me to start an initiative that will help people from developing communities to master ICT and the internet. It should clarify all those things that we take for granted, but which are a great mistery to others. You will find more about it on http://ruralweb.info . This blog and the reactions are a great inspiration for our work. Thank you!

  42. I fond that another misconception is that everyone has access to a cellphone in Africa. I’m currently in Liberia where this is definitely not the case – a fact that is a real problem for many refugees coming from Ivory Coast. See also: “Rural Liberia: Where cellphones are still a rarity” http://sm4good.com/2011/07/20/liberia-mobile-phones/

  43. Taking the zoom-pinching from recent touchscreen phones as a guideline – would this then be the ultimate solution that will work in all cultures?

    Also, the predictive T9 keypad – there are other African societies where it “just works”, so why should it be different in Liberia? Or is that because of the cellphone penetration in Liberia Timo mentioned?

    It would be interesting to know if the engineers at Apple Inc. made up a list of interface design related to different cultures and if yes, whether they’d be willing to share it as open knowledge (?).

  44. Zoltán Ferenczi

    I am sorry to join this exciting discussion this late. Hope someone will read my post. I just wanted to add the following: Beside cultural background, age may also play a role in how intiutive people find particular technologies.

    I currently live in Germany though I come from Hungary, and many of my relatives live in Romania. So my family quickly adopted skype so we would not go bankrupt. My grandmother, who lives in Romania uses skype and calls me regularly. She is really cool is not she :). Anyway, during my exchanges with heard I realized that things I had taken for perfectly granted concerning the use of skype, is not straightforward for those generations who never used VOIP, e-mail, etc.
    One afternoon we agreed to talk on skype. While I was waiting for her to come online, I had a lot of stuff to do, so I changed my status to “Not at the computer” (and I am one of those who is usually “not at the computer”) and was not monitoring who was online either. In the evening I realized my grandma never called. So the next time we met, she expressed her dissatisfaction about me never showing up that day. I was like: “Grandma I was online and waiting for you”. Grandma: “I kept looking but you were not at the computer” Tried as i might, I could not explain to her that a user may be at the computer even if status says differently. The use is free to choose the status, and they use it discourage some other users to call…
    In Romania there are a lot of skype users, but if you are over 70 you might simply not have those “reflexes” that are self-explanatory for younger generations.

  45. Thank you for your great contribution, Zoltán Ferenczi! Just this morning I was baffled when my mother in law indicated she had no idea how to send the link to a website to her sister… both use internet and e-mail, but have apparrently no comprehension of copying a url and pasting it into an e-mail…

  46. Thanks Patrick, for the well written article on subject definitely deserving higher priority.
    Browsing through the comments I get the feeling that the educational meassures seen as are somewhat one-way; educate the future users to adopt the concepts assummed to be intuitive by the developers of the technologies. To bring these insights – the cultural (and generational, see Zoltán Ferenczi) dependency of what is intuitive to someone – to technology developers might be even more beneficial.
    As part of the discussion is dwelling on the perception of maps I take the stick charts used in polynesian navigation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Islands_stick_chart) as an example how seemingly primitive technical means (non-intuitive to a ‘western’ navigator) can actually contain more understandable information valuable ‘in the field’.

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