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Recapping the earlier posts on this topic, Mark Zuckerberg’s new non-profit consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) corporations would like to connect the remaining 5 billion inhabitants of the planet to the Internet who are not now connected (Internet.org, 2013). Many of the five billion people in question will most likely come from collectivistic non-western cultures. What effects can we expect?

As connecting the world’s populations has never been attempted before, literature focusing on the potential effects is non-existent. As a result, a reduced scale of the effort can be examined in regard to the insertion of Western ICT into countries that have not been previously exposed to it en masse or subject to its effects.

In 2008, the American nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) began distribution of 5,000 laptop computers to children in three different schools in Ethiopia, a country notably collectivistic and split religiously between the practices of Christianity and Islam (Martins, 2007; CIA, 2013). OLPC’s express goal is to enhance education by allowing children to tap into their own potential and be exposed to a world of ideas (Kraemer, Dedrick, & Sharma, 2009; Owe, et al., 2012; One Laptop per Child, n.d.; CIA, 2013; Kocsev, Hansen, Hollow, & Pischetola, 2009). As OLPC has been in existence since 2005 and active in many nations around the world, researchers from the University of Groningen, with funding from the Engineering Capacity Building program, devised a yearlong study to examine how the insertion of ICT may psychologically affect individuals and their culture (Hansen, Postmes, van der Vinne, & van Thiel, 2012). Led by two professors from the sociology department and beginning in 2008, but prior to the distribution of the laptops in Ethiopia, the team followed 69 children who had been given laptops, 76 who hadn’t and 24 who had been given laptops that broke down during the course of the study (the last two served as control groups) which ended in the summer of 2010 (N. Hansen, personal communication, Oct 1, 2013). During this study, the team claims to have found the “first systematic evidence that usage of Western ICT can instigate cultural change in a traditional developing country”, and that “the usage of ICT fosters the development of an independent self-construal which is related to an adoption of a modern set of values”, but the authors do not assume these effects may be long-lasting without further longitudinal research (Hansen, Postmes, van der Vinne, & van Thiel, p. 230). Further, they caution against any strong inferences in regard to the merits or disadvantages of this type of investment as additional research is needed, while at the same time pointing out that comparable investments in books, schools, and increasing the number of teachers may be of just as much value, without the need for support systems to repair or power laptops, as an example (Hansen, Postmes, van der Vinne, & van Thiel, 2012).

This is the third article in a short series examining what types of psychological effects can be expected from the insertion of Western ICT into a collective environment devoid of such equipment; whether changes in cultures might be observed, and if so how might they manifest themselves and how long might that take; and how religious beliefs may impact the insertion of ICT.

References

CIA. (2013). Ethiopia. Retrieved from The World Factbook:   https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html

Kocsev, M., Hansen, N., Hollow, D., & Pischetola, M. (2009). Innovative learning in Ethiopia. Joint working paper. Addis Abeba, Ethiopia: Engineering Capacity Building Program. Retrieved from University of Groningen: http://bit.ly/1bxOldY

Kraemer, K. L., Dedrick, J., & Sharma, P. (2009). One laptop per child: Vision vs. reality. Communications of the ACM, 66-73. doi:10.1145/1516046.1516063

Martins, C. (2007, July 13). Intel joins One Laptop Per Child initiative. Retrieved from Macworld: http://www.macworld.com/article/1058937/olpc.html

One Laptop per Child. (n.d.). Vision. Retrieved 2013, from One Laptop per Child: http://laptop.org/en/vision/

Owe, E., Vignoles, V. L., Becker, M., Brown, R.,   Smith, P. B., Lee, S. W., . . . Jalal, B. (2012). Contextualism as an important facet of individualism-collectivism: Personhood beliefs across 37 national groups. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1-22. doi:10.1177/0022022111430255

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