Bringing the Internet to Pandora (2)

Posted on January 30, 2010

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Clearly the people of Long Lamai are committed to the telecentre and committed to “development” in some form and fashion (on the face of it, the two commitments would appear from the current Long Lamai community perspective to in fact, be one and the same!). But precisely what that development might look like doesn’t seem to be firmly established as yet.

Looking over the shoulders of the project manager as we are discussing how the telecentre is currently being used he tells me that the first direct application is not surprisingly, email.  COERI as part of their project start-up and community engagement process invited a small number of people from the community (those with some prior experience with computers/the Internet—mostly from secondary school—to a meeting in another community where they gathered similar representatives from the other 4 new sites along with representation from the “mother site” e-Bario.  The first use of the local telecentre in Long Lamai then was thus allowing for the young people in Long Lamai to maintain their connections with the young people from the other communities (and of course with the project folks back in Kuching).

Again, the second application was perhaps not too surprising – setting up Facebook connections with those same folks in other communities and then with (mostly school) friends from other communities often in the local hub city Miri. Several of the local Long Lamai users are now FB “friends” with several dozens of (mostly) young people in the region and notably the preferred medium of communication appears to be the Penan language.

The third application was surprising though and that is that there are now several blogs being written in the community by some of the same group.  These blogs are also in Penan and (according to the COERI folks) are concerned specifically with addressing the issue of the encroachment of logging (and not incidentally loggers) into the Penan’s local area.  I don’t know the entire story (it has been written about in the local and international press—most notably by Al Jazeera http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w2otctyynE&feature=fvsr ) but the blog is evidently an attempt by those in the Long Lamai community to raise national awareness and protest concerning this logging.

I don’t know the details of the issue (complexities of land tenure for formerly nomadic peoples is one significant element) but what is particularly interesting from a Community Informatics perspective is that among the first applications that a formerly non-connected community has looked to realize is that of giving a potentially international voice to local concerns and issues.

The desire to use the new connectivity as a way of presenting and marketing the community for tourism/homestay has to be seen in this context as well. For a community as self-sufficient as this one appears to be, the desire for outside cash income and visitors would appear to be a desire for the additional self-sufficiency in the economic sphere as well as in the sphere of physical survival.  These applications are both related processes of “development” but development within an overall context of community enablement and community empowerment as provided by ICTs and the Internet.

This is I think, a new Internet enabled form of “development”—a “community informatics” enabled development i.e. a development where the local community has access to the outside information and communication resources that they require to, if not manage, at least have a very strong influence and intervention into the pace and nature of the developmental process that they are choosing to enter into.