Tag Archives: Violence

The advantages of being unconnected to the Internet: a thought experiment

The 2021 ITU Facts and Figures report highlighted that 2.9 billion people, or 37% of the world’s population, have still never used the Internet. Implict in this, as in almost all UN initiatives relating to digital technology, is the ideal that everyone should be connected to the Internet. Hence, many global initiatives continue to be designed to create multi-stakeholder (or as I prefer, multi-sector – see my Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development) partnerships to provide connectivity to everyone in the world. But, whose interests does this really serve? Would the unconnected really be better off if they were connected?

Walking in the Swiss mountains last month, and staying in a place where mobile phones and laptops were prohibited, reminded me of the human importance of being embedded in nature – and that of course we don’t really need always to be digitally connected.

Although I have addressed these issues in many of my publications over the last 20 years, I have never articulated in detail the reasons why people might actually be better off remaining unconnected: hence this thought experiment. There are actually many sound reasons why people should consider remaining unconnected, and for those of us who spend our lives overly connected we should think about disconnecting ourselves as much as possible. These are but a few of these reasons:

  • Above all, we were born to be a part of the physical world in which we live. Virtual realities may approximate (or even in some senses enhance) that physical world, but they are fundamentally different. Those who spend all of their time connected miss out on all the joys of living in nature; those who are unconnected have the privilege of experiencing the full richness of that nature.
  • Those who are unconnected do not have to waste time sifting through countless boring e-mails or group chats to find what is worthwhile, or the messages in which they are really interested.
  • The unconnected cannot give away for free their valuable data from which global digital corporations make their fortunes.
  • Being unconnected means not harming the physical environment through the heavy demands digital technologies place on our precious natural world (see the work of the Digital-Environment System Coalition – DESC)
  • Those who are unconnected do not suffer the horrors of online harassment or digital violence.
  • The unconnected are not forced by their managers to self-exploit by doing online training once they are home after a day’s work, or answer e-mails/chat messages sent by their managers at all hours of the day and night.
  • Those who are not online don’t have to run the risk of online scams or phishing attacks that steal their savings – and the poor suffer most when, for example, their small amounts of money are stolen.
  • The unconnected can largely escape much of the digital surveillance now promulgated by governments in the name of “security” and “anti-terrorist” action.
  • The unconnected do not suffer from digital addictions to online games, gambling, or pornography.
  • Ultimately, being connected is akin to being enslaved by the world’s digital barons and their corporations; if you cannot stop using digital tech for a few days, let alone a week, surely you have lost your freedom?

Despite the fine sounding words of those leading global connectivity initiatives, is it really the poorest and most marginalised who are going to benefit most from being connected? Surely, this agenda of global connectivity is being driven mainly in the interests of the global corporations that will be paid to roll out the tech infrastructre, or that will benefit from exploiting the data that we all too willingly give them for nothing? Does not, for example, digital financial inclusion benefit the financial and tech companies and institutions far more than it does the poorest and most marginalised? This is not to deny that digital tech does indeed have many positive uses, but it is to ask fundamental questions about who benefits most.

I remember visiting a village in Africa with colleagues who couldn’t understand why the inhabitants didn’t want mobile phones. Walking over the hills to see their friends was more important to them than the ease of calling them up. This post owes much to that conversation.

We all need to ask the crucial questions about whose interests our often well-intentioned global digital connectivity initiatives really serve. If we wish to serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised, we must become their servants and not the servants of the world’s rich and powerful; we must be humble, and learn from those we wish to serve.

And the world’s rich and privileged also need to take care of ourselves; if we have difficulty living a day without being connected, surely we have indeed become enslaved? We need to regain our freedom as fully sentient beings, using all of our senses to comprehend and care for the natural world in which we live. May I conclude by encouraging people to think about using the hashtag #1in7offline. Take one day a week away from digital tech to experience the wonders of our world, unmediated by the paltry digital alternative. Or try taking a week away from the digital world every seven weeks. If you cannot do this, ask yourself why!

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Filed under Africa, digital technologies, Empowerment, ICT4D, United Nations

Warsaw: lest we forget…

Images on the garden perimeter at the Warsaw Uprising Museum

Images on the garden perimeter at the Warsaw Uprising Museum

Participating in the 12th TIME Economic Forum in Warsaw, especially on a day when the Government prohibited the holding of such large-scale events (because of Covid-19), provided an opportunity to visit and reflect on some of the city’s history, and indeed the history of Poland more generally.  It was a stark reminder of human inhumanity.  It was also, though, an opportunity to appreciate the efforts made in Europe since 1945, and especially through the creation of the European Union, to try to ensure that such almost unbelievable horrors do not happen again in our continent.  We should surely do more not to promote them in other parts of the world.

Katyn

I began by reflecting on the implications of the Katyn Massacre in 1940 when some 22,000 Polish officers and members of the intelligentsia were massacred by the Soviet People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) at the instigation of Lavrentiy Beria and with Stalin’s approval.  Although Katyn is some 850 kms to the east of Warsaw, I still find it hard to believe that so many countries were complicit in the Soviet denial of this atrocity, even if this was in the broader interests of retaining Soviet support in the war against Nazi Germany.  The elimination of so many leading military and academic figures (including half the Polish officer corps as well as 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists) makes the Polish intellectual resurgence in the second half of the 20th century all the more remarkable.  It is hard to think that I first hosted a Polish academic colleague in the UK (Prof Wiesław Maik from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń) 36 years ago and only 44 years after the massacre.  Then, and in my subsequent meetings with academic colleagues from Poland, I have always been impressed by their rigour and commitment.

The Warsaw Ghetto

Not much remains of the Ghetto in the vibrant modern city of Warsaw with its new high-rise business centre.  But hidden away, almost invisible, tiny traces can be found.  I am grateful to a friend for pointing out where I could find an old gate to the Ghetto at the intersection of Grzybowska and Żelazna streets.

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The wall surrounding the Warsaw Ghetto began to be constructed in April 1940, and consisted initially of some 307 hectares, but was gradually reduced in size, making life inside ever more miserable.  It is very hard today to envisage the horrors that the Jews living inside had to face.  It was from here that they were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps, with some 254,000 Ghetto residents being sent to Treblinka in the summer of 1942.  By the time it was demolished in May 1943 following the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it is estimated that at least 300,000 Jewish inhabitants had been killed, with some 92,000 dying of hunger and related diseases.

The Warsaw Uprising

Nearby the remnants of the Ghetto wall is the museum of the 63 day Warsaw Uprising in August-October 1944 (sadly closed when I tried to visit).  This was the largest uprising by any European resistance group during the 1939-45 war, and was timed to coincide with the retreat of the German army in the face of the Soviet advance.  However, the Soviet Army did not continue its progress, which gave the German army time to regroup, crush the Uprising, and subsequently largely destroy the city of Warsaw.  Despite some support from British and US forces, the uprising was doomed to failure without the continued advance of the Soviet forces.   It has been estimated that 16,000 Polish resistance fighters were killed, with around 6,000 more being badly wounded; somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 civilians are also estimated to have been killed, mainly in mass executions.  On a sunny day, at the edge of the modern business centre of Warsaw, it is hard to imagine the horrors and violence of what happened.

The destruction and rebirth of the old city of Warsaw

Following the Uprising, the Germans implemented what had been a long-intended plan to destroy the city as part of its Germanization of Central Europe.  They had even drawn up designs (by Hubert Gross) to create a “New German City of Warsaw” as early as 1939.  However, although they must have known in 1944 that they would soon be defeated, and there was then little to be gained from destroying the city, they nevertheless proceeded to raze it to the ground in vengeance for the Uprising.  Between September 1944 and January 1945, some 85-90% of all the buildings in Warsaw were destroyed.  The scale of devastation is only too visible from the many photographs taken following Hitler’s defeat, and can be seen on various plaques in the city following its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

With amazing energy, the Polish people set about rebuilding the old city between the late-1940s and the 1970s, and as the imahges below attest it is hard today to believe that everything we see now is less than 80 years old.

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Seeing the modern city of Warsaw, alongside its ancient heart once again beating strongly, I find it incredibly difficult to comprehend the horrors and violence experienced by the Polish people, especially during the 1939-45 war.  I have always been impressed by the diligence, generosity and energy of the friends I have made from Poland, and those of us in Britain should all be grateful to them for their contribution to our economy in recent years. Being here makes me realise once again the tremendous strides we have made in Europe during my lifetime – one of the longest periods of prolonged peace in the continent’s history.  This owes much to the work of those who sought to rebuild the continent after 1945, and to the activities of the various European institutions that they constructed, not least the European Union.  It makes me even more sad that so many people in Britain chose to follow those of our so-called leaders who for their own selfish interests and political ambitions sought to separate us from the EU in the forlorn hope that Britain might once again be “Great” (alone).  We must never forget the enormous sacrifices made by so many people that we might live in peace.  I for one am grateful to have had this opportunity to be reminded once again of the sacrifices made by the Polish people, and am privileged to have had the chance to express my own thanks by participating in the TIME Economic Forum, which captured so well the economic vibrancy and energy that characterise Poland in the 21st century. Dziękuję…

Dance during the TIME gala dinner

Dance during the TIME gala dinner

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Filed under Germany, Inequality, Photographs, Poland, Politics

Brexit does not mean Brexit…

The endgame of “Brexit” is upon us, and if the UK’s Prime Minister is to be believed, the chances are high that the country will leave the EU without a deal at the end of October.

Screenshot 2019-08-31 at 16.16.19

This is not what the majority of the country’s citizens want.  It is not what most European leaders want.  Yet, in response to attempts at discussing the issues, very many “Brexiteers” simply resort to the statement that “Brexit means Brexit!“, and most are usually unwilling to engage in any kind of further rational debate on the issue.  The opprobrium poured on those who dare to try to debate the issue, the threats of violence, and the abusive posts on social media all testify to how divided our country is.  I have argued elsewhere that this was because those voting to leave in the 2016 referendum did so largely on emotional grounds, whereas most of those voting to remain did so on rational grounds.  However, whenever I hear it, I am always struck how very, very problematic this slogan is.  So, let me once again, please try in the simplest possible ways to convince those who believe that the slogan is true, that the referendum vote really does not mean that the UK should leave the EU:

  1. People did not know what they were voting for in the 2016 referendum.  There was absolutely no clarity at the time about what the options would be for leaving the EU, nor were the real implications fully understood.  It is therefore actually meaningless to say “Brexit means Brexit”.
  2. The referendum was only advisory.  The referendum was not legally binding, although some politicians did say that they would abide by it.  In the UK, though, there is a fundamental distinction between what is legal and what is not.  In some countries, referendums are indeed legally binding, but this one was not.
  3. The referendum campaign was repleat with lies.  It has been argued that neither side told the truth about Brexit during the 2016 campaign, but it is fairly widely accepted that those campaigning to leave lied to a far greater extent than did those campaigning to remain.  I have posted a selection of these lies and half-truths in my 2018 post The half-truths and misprepresentations that won Brexit.
  4. Brexit campaigners have been shown to have broken the law regarding the funding of their campaign.  Leave.EU was fined £70,000 over breaches of electoral law.  Moreover, in October 2018 Open Democracy reported that the “Police (are) still not invesitgating Leave campaigns, citing ‘political sensitivies’”.
  5. The Brexit campaign illegally used social media to influence voters.  The illegal funding was largely used to support targetted social media, and experts suggest that it could well have influenced over 800,000 voters.  The Leave campaign only won by 634,751 votes.  Moreover, there is strong evidence that disgraced firm Cambridge Analytica had indeed used sophisticated social profiling techniques to target voters.
  6. Only 27% of the total UK population actually voted to leave.  While 52% of those voting did indeed vote to leave, this represented only a small percentage of the total population.  Moreover, the 700,000 British citizens who had lived overseas for more than 15 years were also excluded from the vote.  Likewise, European citizens living and working in the UK were not permitted to vote.
  7. A majority of people in the UK now wish to remain in the EU.  By January 2019 demographic factors alone meant that there were more people likely to vote to remain than to leave, because of the number of elderly people (likely to vote leave) who had died since 2016, and the number of young people who are now 18 but could not vote in 2016 (likely to vote remain) who are now eligible to vote.
  8. If politicians can change their minds, why are the people not allowed to?  One of the most remarkable things about the last three years has been the willingness of parliamentarians to change their minds about Brexit, and yet they have not given the chance to the people of this country also to change their minds.  This seems to me to be hugely hypocritical.  Indeed, former Prime Minister May is the classice example of this.  She voted to remain, and yet continually emphasised once she was Prime Minister that Brexit means Brexit. For those who are interested in how other politicians continue to change their mind, do look at my post on Flip-flop views over Brexit.

Those are the main grounds why the observation that 52% of those voting in the 2016 referendum supported leave does not mean that we should leave the EU now in 2019, and especially not without any kind of agreement.

However, for those who wish to read a little further, let me highlight the absurdity of the figures and the way the referendum was constructed.  How would those supporting Brexit have reacted to a 52% vote in favour of remaining?  Might they not have tried to make similar arguments to those above (assuming of course that they were willing to debate these issues)?  What if only 25 million people had voted, and 52% had voted to remain.  That would only represent some 13 million people, or just under 20% of the total population.  Surely that could not be a legitimate basis for remaining they might say!

Whether to leave or remain has clearly divided the country, and indeed parliament.  However, in such circumstances, the wise thing to have done would have been to say that this is an insufficient mandate for change.  Indeed, as in many other key referendums, specific criteria could have been built into the original referendum.  For example, the referendum could have stated that it would require at least two-thirds of those eligible to vote to leave, or more than 50% of the total population voting this way, for the government to initiate procedures to leave.  The shaping of the referendum which was purely advisory has itself led to many of these problems.  The UK is a divided country, and in such circumstances where there is no clear mandate for change, our government(s) should have explored other options.  The actions of the Tory party over the last three years have only exacerbated the divides within our society.  After all, though, Brexit was never realy about the interests of the British people, but was instead fundamentally concerned with the survival of our existing political parties, and about the careers of individual politicians who saw it as an opportunity for their own engradisement.

European Citizen 30 Aug 2019Whatever happens in the future, it will be essential for huge efforts to be put into reuniting our country.  The social divides that Brexit has opened will take years to heal, and may be even more damaging to the country than the economic crisis that will befall the UK if we do indeed leave, especially without a deal.  Today’s protests against PM Johnson’s plans to suspend Parliament are just a beginning.  There is very considerable potential for widespreead violence, and as in the run-up to most civil wars, families, communities and workplaces are all now becoming increasingly divided.  We need wise, brave, strong, visionary and inspirational leaders.  Tragically, there is no evidence that we have such politicians.

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Filed under Brexit, Politics, Uncategorized