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Start How Culture Determines Technological Development
25 February 2016

How Culture Determines Technological Development

Estimated reading time Time 4 to read

There are very few examples that demonstrate that cultural constructions arise from their own needs better than the many different terms that the languages used by Eskimos have to refer to snow. Although it may be a fact that time has turned into a myth, by distorting it too much, it is partially right, as José Antonio Díaz Rojo tell us in the Espacio Virtual Cervantes. If the Eskimos have so many different words to define snow, it is because they need a lot of specification to talk about something constant and usual for them: to distinguish its intensity, state, etc.

The development of a country is linked to its income, but the influence of their social problems largely determines whether a technology is used or not / Image: Public domain (www.splitshire.com)

Likewise, it may be partly explained how technological development proceeds in one country or another, beyond the differences in GDP or income per capita: societies use innovation to solve problems. And who better than a fellow citizen to understand the problems of a country, region, and seek solutions. For example: Would anyone have guessed ten years ago that Kenya was to become one of the world leaders in mobile payments? The World Bank explains and contextualizes this phenomenon: in a country with limited access to debit cards and even bank accounts, payments via SMS for invoices, transactions between private individuals, etc., have had a special role.In Nigeria something similar happened.

Far from Kenya and Nigeria, many multinationals have been proposing their models for mobile payments, with excellent results in many situations, such as the Bruce Rogers report for Forbes shows, but without ever achieving a global or national acceptance as effective as in the case of Kenya.

Continuing with the African theme: Agriculture in Ghana is being revolutionized thanks to the mobile phone. This development is set up by the local operator Esoko, in collaboration with the IFPRI entity and as part of the Food Africa program. Ghanaian farmers receive a text message twice a week with the market price of their crops, seeds, fertilizers, etc.; as well as regional variations within the country. The result: A more competitive market and prevention against possible fraud related to prices given the limited information. As SMS is losing ground in more and more countries in the world, in others it represents an excellent opportunity.

Far from what we may think, technological developments are not only linked to the more developed countries. It is in the more limited regions where the most prominent examples are found / Image: Public domain (www.splitshire.com)

Another example: why are there more and more start-ups developed in Silicon Valley aimed at “replacing mums”? The latter term, which may be more or less accurate, was born in an article from the Business Insider published in May 2015 in which Caron Biz pondered on the growing number of start-ups focused on taking care of your household chores by requesting the service with an app. The reason could be summed up with the fact that Silicon Valley is increasingly populated by people who share the profile: young, unaccustomed to doing laundry, ironing, preparing their own food or cleaning the house, with little time for it, money to pay to another person to do it instead, and the ceaseless trend to seek solutions with their mobile phones. A textbook example of technology developed in response to local needs.

Uber, a paradigm of the Silicon Valley where everything is done with a smartphone (request a ride, pay for it and even set the music to be played through the speakers of the vehicle on the way) had to be adjusted when it arrived at India: for the first time it began to accept cash. What other choice did it have in a country where neither debit cards are common nor bank accounts are as necessary as elsewhere?

An ecosystem of start-ups has been created in Israel that many other nations which are better positioned a priori to create a net of innovative companies able to internationalize, have been unable to replicate. One key is that it is difficult to find clones of other renowned start-ups. While other countries have local or regional versions of Airbnb, Uber, Foursquare and other emerging flashy companies, Israel is committed to originality.

tecnological development
The paradigm of technology for culture is found in these start-ups ecosystems, caused by a whole new era of created needs / Image: Public domain (www.splitshire.com)

Back to the matter at hand, what is it about Israel that makes it so special in regards to this subject? Its geopolitical location gives it an advantage: right in the center between the development and the services of European countries, the industrialization and the technological level of Eastern countries such as Japan, South Korea or Taiwan, and overcrowded emerging economies like India and China. Once again, context.

All of this is summed up well in a study on culture and technology published by Andrew O. Urevbu, professor of educational psychology and curriculum analysis at the University of Benin (Nigeria), included in the website of the UNESCO: “What then is the relationship between culture and technology? The culture of a society determines the nature (form and content) of technological development and the evolution of technological culture. Hence technology is a cultural enterprise that exists in varying degrees in all societies.” Later it refers to technology as “the systematic application of various branches of knowledge to practical problems, which vary from one region to another, depending on the climate or geography or other factors governing the environment which we live.”

Javier Lacort

(Hipertextual) for OpenMind

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