Why Technology Deserves a Prominent Place in Post-Millenium Development Goals Development

Yesterday my grandfather turned 83. There he is in the picture below. The incredible half century gap between the before and after nostalgic snaps are shot next to his lifelong toy and companion: His Morse Code radio.

According the International Amateur Radio Union, more than two million amateur radio lovers just like my grandpa surf the radio waves in search of making connections with others all around the world. I am constantly reminded of the global popularity of this as a pastime when the conversation between us always and inevitably turns to his radio activities and latest certificates he gained. Take his mastery of the “200 world islands” credentials. To receive them he had to touch base with another electron tube enthusiast in each of the two hundred designated islands. Where there are no inhabitants, expeditions were organised that set up makeshift accommodation and a radio shack for a week at a time to allow people to make the needed connection. Upon contact, using the universal language of Morse Code, they swap calling numbers (UA6FQ is my grandpa’s) and send each other a postcard with the date and location of their virtual meeting. He has thousand, literally thousands, of postcards going back to the mid fifties from every nook and cranny of our planet. In return, his radio-buddies receive one from Stavropol—his home town, my birth place and a city nested in the heart of the Northern Caucus range of South Western Russia, between the world’s largest lake that is the Caspian sea and the world’s, well, blackest Black Sea. .

It is amazing that something that seems so archaic to most of us still plays a huge part in connecting strangers across the globe, even if only fleetingly. It is like the Social Network of their generation; Millions of users hopping around hundreds of their radio friends only to touch base briefly, with a handful becoming lifelong radio-pals worth a quarterly ten minute update of short-long-long-short-long index finger tappings. Through their unrelenting chase of radio connections, his generation of innovative social networkers—born out of Space Age technological curiosity, catalyzed by Sputnik’s success and perpetually fueled by the Cold War—and their more hobby driven contemporaries have provided us with endless hours of conversation topic; keeping me and my 83 year old grandpa close.

Had my family emigrated to the U.K. eighty years ago instead of seventeen we would have counted ourselves lucky to hold a conversation via such a device. Instead, with him being in Russia and me in Thailand, Bolivia, France, Australia—and all the other faraway places my life and work take me—we speak for over an hour over Skype at least once a month. Always with the usual wonderfully charming difficulty of his being unable to see or hear me properly for his deteriorating senses and my occasional struggle to understand his diction through his almost entirely toothless smile. Not to mention the Skype call quality problems we have all become inured to that are tolerated by millions of users for the benefit of free global voice and video chat—a tiny price to pay, especially compared to the expedition-size efforts of radio lovers.

We are part of the last few decades’ transformation of social relations and communications between members of a global digital diaspora. On the one hand, for individuals, this serves in the building and maintaining of identity and personal roots. In fact, academics are recognizing that such technologies “are increasingly used transnationally to link migrants and homelands in ways that are deeply meaningful to people on both ends of the line”. For society, on the other hand, online organization of scattered diaspora can help in spreading vital on-the-ground information of major events, pushing a cause and even in the reconstruction and development of nations, as has been witnessed most recently across the Middle East. Although the sad events of the mostly mindless looting and violence in the UK in the summer of 2011 remind us that spontaneous, internet-driven organisation does not always have an admirable purpose and does not always lead to positive action.

Social connections and better family communications are not the only applications of modern technologies that—for those that can access and use them correctly—can have a positive impact on development. Initiatives like the Khan Academy and Coursera—that offer free classes ranging from basic middle school math to university level courses in nutrition for health and disease management—are leveling the playing field of access to education (at least for those with an internet connection).

In this way, ICT (information communication technologies) are increasingly heralded as vital to increasing access to health and education, improving opportunities for employment and income for the poor and pushing breakthroughs in social freedoms such as those of uncensored media and free speech. Nothing tells the story better than the example of mobile cellular devices. Mobile telephones are increasingly used by farmers in the most rural of villages to get the latest city market prices for their goods, which ensures that they get more of the pie from intermediary traders and wholesalers who purchase their products. In some cases, the added advantage elevates the standing of women and other under-privileged groups within communities. Mobile devices have also revolutionized monetary transactions; People are able to send and receive remittances from their family abroad through texting each other pass codes for banks and other institutions that hold their money. Others take out and maintain small micro-loans from local and international lending organisations via their cellular devices. All these uses have meant that the growth of mobile phone industry in developing countries has been nothing if not explosive, with DFID reporting 25% annual growth in subscriptions in Africa alone. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, NGO workers joke that there are twice as many mobile phones as there are citizens in the country.

These developments help speed up and reduce the cost of communications, but they are not without their own problems. In China, for instance, many are calling for corporate liability to be established for companies that sell the government internet tools that it uses to restrict human rights. Meanwhile, in Jamaica, spread of mobile phone usages has ushered in changes in social expectations: Increased connectivity is accompanied by higher obligations on out-migrants to support those left behind. Importantly, not everyone can afford modern devices and many remain simply beyond the ‘coverage’ zone. This inability to access internet and ICT technology can further alienate and impoverish the most vulnerable people across societies, causing skeptics to criticise what they are calling the contemporary ‘ICT fetishism’.

Nevertheless, the wonders of technology never cease to amaze: Electron radios have shortened the distances between strangers for decades, a role now taken over by social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; Skype brings a Russian granddad close to his globally nomadic granddaughter every single month; Twitter and other internet sites are playing an important role in social movement organisation of rebellious youth; and mobile phones are now simultaneously many people’s banks, price-transmitting mechanisms and powerful spreaders of other market, social and political information. As a result, there is room to remain optimistic about the role that ICT can play not only in popular resistance, development and poverty reduction, but in keeping strong family connections, such as my own, across our world’s borders. Issues of changes in social expectation are outside state responsibility and ensuring corporate and government technological responsibility are perhaps better addressed through international pressure. However, in order to silence the critics on inequitable spread of ICT benefits, countries can and need to address inequality in access to guarantee that the most vulnerable groups are not left behind.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were agreed upon and put in place by the leaders of 193 nations at the 2000 Millennium Summit. None of the eight global objectives explicitly included a role for internet and other information and communications technology, perhaps because their widespread use in advanced nations had only been around for a decade or so. However, subsequently, ICTs’ importance has been increasingly internationally recognized, not least by the United Nations. As the 2015 MDG deadline approaches and we begin to imagine a post-MDG future, the framework enacted will surely need to be a more vehement promoter of ICT and other technologies for development. Inevitably, as with all development solutions, they are not a panacea for development. In order to steer technologies in the direction of reaping the highest development rewards they will need to be devised with the local context in mind and be accompanied with a strong effort on ensuring equality in access across all social groups, especially the most disadvantaged.

What role do you think technology should plain in a post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework and why? Reply with your thoughts below.


Regarding the 2011 UK riots, it actually began as a protest in response to the completely unacceptable demonstration of excessive and entirely unnecessary use of lethal force (to the point of bordering on outright execution) by the cops who killed Mark Duggan. The public assembled to demand the officers involved be held responsible for his death. The riots were sparked because of a police officer at this demonstration who attacked a 16-year-old girl with his baton. The riots were nothing more than the explosive release of public anger at the frequency with which the police allowed each other to get away with (quite literally, in this case) murder.

Dear Leo,

I completely agree with you, but the way they spread and spiraled after the initial statement was more to do with hooliganism and looting. This was very evident not least from the interviews held with perpetrators and as much as I wanted to see a wider sign of dissidence because of a broader downtrodden economic and political condition in the country (as one or two liberal commentators were suggesting), much evidence built to the contrary, especially they way the riots then fizzled. I'd love your thoughts on this further.


It absolutely become seriously out of hand and became far more harmful than beneficial to the protesters' message, it just should never have surprised anyone. When you push people long enough and hard enough, they will push back. Honestly, I'm extremely surprised and impressed that riots haven't begun in the US yet.

Again, I absolutely agree with you. As a Brit, I really wish the message was directed and nurtured better since, as you rightly say, the out of control nature of it in the end did more harm than good.

What was most interesting for me was a BBC 'interview' with Darcus Howe during the riots. His was the only genuine and authoritative voice to be heard, and we needed to listen and respect and really try to understand what he was saying. But did we do this? Did the BBC do that? Heck no! We treated him as if if were Victorian times, and dismissed him. And cut to white, middle and upper-class academics and 'intellectuals' who of course understood the issues much better than a leading broadcaster who actually lives in, and is part of the community.

See for yourself; i like the bit when the woman says immediately after the interview that the 'biggest knock-on effect' of the riots is a football match being postponed. It's like watching The Day Today. Only its actually happening.


Thanks for sharing, you may enjoy this in return: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/08/201189105816840954.html

Unfortunately her original post on her blog was moved, the original discussion that followed was occasionally critical and as enlightening as her piece.

First let me say what a thoroughly great article this is. I think the link our generation has with our grandparents is pivotal. Both my grandfathers are now deceased, and I only have one grandmother still alive (and kicking), but they are my link to our - world - history. Both my grandmothers were in the WRAF, and both grandfathers fought in WWII. I can reach out and touch this past. But we are the last generation to have such a connection. I'm reading The Book Thief at the moment, and it makes me think and feel so much about what it must have been like for my family back then. I can empathise on a really deep level, which helps me to put into perspective this crazy, modern word we now live in.

I have read in The Guardian several articles that reflect and re-iterate many of the points and issues you highlight in this blog, especially the use of mobile phone and internet technologies playing a vital role in assisting farmers and emerging industries across Africa, and they serve to reinforce your arguments.

Agriculture and water will be the biggest issues facing the world in the next few years - alongside over-population, and we need more people like you writing and publicising how to address these needs and concerns. Fishing and farming policies, as well as the global marketplace and societal demands are all self-destructive and unsustainable, and we need to find new ways to amalgamate technology into these areas.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this, and please write more. There are too few experts and leading voices in global, sustainable development, and we need to hear your voice.

Thank you Dan.

Aquaponics may be sustainable, however if we're aiming for true civilization, our efforts are better directed at cruelty-free practices.

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that fish are sophisticated animals who exhibit intelligence, complex social structures, long-term memory, and the capacity to feel pain. Raising them in tanks for slaughter is not necessary for our survival or dietary well-being. I'd say a "taste" for food made of dead animals or their products is not unlike a taste for vanity consumer items.

Imagine if this energy were channeled into creating a wide variety of delicious, nutritious plant-based food products. Aside from gaining more efficient use of plant-based food resources we'd soon lose our cravings for flesh and blood and our need to enslave
other species.

Aquaponics is cruelty-free: fish are raised in a clean environment (even moreso than their natural environments); they aren't at risk of being eaten by predators; they aren't pulled out of the water by a metal hook in their mouth; they can be killed quickly, minimizing suffering (which can't be said for fish in open waters); they spend their lives in great health; and aquaponics itself is extremely energy-efficient, especially if your system doesn't use electricity.

Fish in large aquaria have been observed showing behaviors that indicate they are adversely affected by a restricted environment. The UK-based Captive Animals Protection Society found fish exhibiting abnormal behaviours in 90% of the aquaria they visited in their study – including abnormal feeding, shelter-seeking, bottom-sitting, head-standing and tail walking. These and other repetitive behaviours observed would be described as stereotypes if observed in other animals, a classic sign of stress and neurological dysfunction.

In their death throes fish writhe, gasping and flapping their gills as they desperately try to get oxygen. Anyone who has ever been unable to breathe even for a short time will understand that this is a terrifying experience.

I know someone who worked at a fish counter killing tank fish "humanely". He hated his job and couldn't continue it.

Could you cite or link the study? I'd like to know what kind of environment was created for the fish, what their fish densities were, what the concentrations of different compounds were, how many aquaria were visited, which ones, etc.

Also, yes, if you let fish die by suffocation of course they're going to writhe and suffer; if you cut off their head shortly after taking them out of the water or kill them before taking them out then there's no suffering.

Here's the study. http://www.captiveanimals.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Suffering-Deep-...

If I follow your line of thinking, I can cut your head off shortly after submerging you and there's no suffering.

Yeah. If I'm decapitated, I won't feel any pain and I will lose consciousness within a couple seconds. It's extremely quick and nearly painless.

I'm reading the study now.

Not the way the way it's done under sharia law. The point is that this is all unnecessary.

I'm not Muslim so that doesn't apply to me. Also, unless vegans successfully convince or force 6.5+ billion people to stop eating animal products, the vast majority of the human population will continue eating them -- aquaponics is, at least, the healthiest, cleanest, most efficient, most sustainable, and least harmful option there is.

This study suggests nothing relevant to aquaponics. It studies only public aquariums that have lots of people wearing clothing of varying colors and brightness, talking fairly loudly, walking up to the glass (perhaps touching, tapping, and banging on the glass), etc. It is run by corporations that are only concerned with maximizing profits whereas local aquaponics farmers are concerned primarily with raising healthy fish. Moreover, a lot of these stressors that are mentioned in this study simply don't exist in aquaponics systems.

Point taken, and here is a deep issue about how we relate with other beings on this planet. See

What besides might gives us the right to systematically exploit other species, humanely or otherwise? Everything from "culling" "overpopulations" to the sanitized horrors of vivisection in the name of medical science are legitimized under the anthropocentric bias to which we're heavily conditioned.

Other animals are not merely resources for us to consume, no matter how sustainably. This is an important understanding to arrive at for a Resource Based Economic Model. If the future looks anything like Star Trek, we will in Riker's words, "no longer enslave animals for food purposes".

Well my friend, humans simply can't go against hundreds of thousands years of evolution adapting to eat meat. We are omnivores, like it or not. Even if we become true vegans one day it still needs to pass a lot of time so our bodies can adapt to plant only diet, in one word - evolution. Its going against nature, and that always gives bad results.

And I'm telling you this as a former vegetarian, who nearly screwed his health trying to be something that he naturally isn't, a herbivore. I feel sorry for the animals too but we need their proteins and other nutrients found only in meat, and i hope that in near future we will have true commercial artificial lab-grown meat, i see a great potential in that stuff for freeing the animals from our diner tables.

Oh and btw in Star Trek they have replicators. Cos you know, its 23rd century... So i think we should focus what we can do now, with present day tech.

Actually, a substantial amount of evidence shows vegan diets to be one of the healthiest diets known (the other is pescetarianism). Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of extremely healthy vegans -- some of whom are world-class athletes. Omnivorism does not require an organism to eat both meat and plants, it allows the organism to expand its dietary options to guarantee it the greatest likelihood of survival.

I can't prove this, but I hypothesize that meat consumption was a trade-off for humans. While it is very nutrient-dense and provides us with almost everything we need to survive, regular consumption of animal proteins (the upper limit -- from what my calculations show -- is roughly 2 average-sized hamburgers a week for a 150-lb human) usually results in various chronic diseases. However, these diseases rarely emerge before the age of 40 -- up until a few hundred years ago, we didn't often live much longer than 30.

Fortunately, fish and lean poultry seem to contribute the least toward the development of chronic illnesses so if people want to continue eating meat, aquaponics is the healthiest option for them.

What evidence? Show me. Who are those athletes? Actually, the vegan diet could be potentialy healthy if its accompanied by a ton of artificial supplements. Even then it still holds some health risks from nutrient deficiency.

"Vegan diets tend to be low in iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, according to a review of dozens of published articles on the biochemistry of vegetarianism, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
As a result, vegans tend to have high blood levels of homocysteine and low levels of HDL, or "good," cholesterol. Both are risk factors for heart disease"  Duo Li, a professor of nutrition at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

B12 deficency is the most serious problem in vegan diet. While there are health risks of eating meat, they occur of overconsumption of low qualty, over processed meat. Fresh fish, poultry,  and fresh lean meat are very healthy foods, if consumed in normal quantities. Most people who are meat eaters and have health problems, are obese people. They are not obese cos they eat meat, they are obese cos they eat too much of everything.  The most unhealthy food is not the meat actually, its the fat and the sugars (in large quantities).

As i said earlier, i think forcing veganism on the human body ISN'T natural as many think it is. Our body needs proteins from meat. When i was vegeterian, not vegan, i ate milk prdoucts sometimes, i always felt hungry and weak, and yes i ate high protein legumes all the time.

And talking about the ethical question, plants are living beings too, and how  their exploitation and consumpiton is presuposed not be ethicaly questionable? Isnt that also example of what the previous poster said its Speciesism? Plants are species too. Living creatures who are born, live, and die.

The only solution for these issues is technology, making artificial foods that will eliminate the need for species exploitation.

Evidence: https://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=795572&... http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/59/5/1242S.short; http://biohorizons.oxfordjournals.org/content/3/2/197.full; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1627S.full; https://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=814544&... http://www.springerlink.com/content/480pu7m6q1817w61/

Athletes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pw5K3rBNjc; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_BdFj9UusU&feature=related

Veganism does present a significant risk of nutrient deficiencies, however healthy vegans significantly lessen this risk by incorporating an amazingly varied diet with most meals consisting of several different foods. I'm not sure what you mean by 'artificial foods' since all cooked meals are technically artificial, however if you're referring to vitamin supplements then vegans can maintain a perfectly healthy diet with no deficiencies without any kind of vitamins or nutritional supplements.

Just because you couldn't maintain a healthy vegetarian diet doesn't mean a vegetarian or vegan diet isn't healthy. What kind of foods did you eat? How did you ensure you were receiving a full nutritional profile? How do you know the weakness you were feeling wasn't the result of ingested toxins stored in your body's fat cells being released?

Thank you for the links you provided, i can see that in the articles is described exactly what i was trying to point out, that vegan diet is healthy, IF additional supplements are used to add for the missing nutrients. I don't say that vegan diet is bad or anything like that, i am just saying that is not a complete diet for a healthy human being, and that nutrient and protein deficiency can cause some serious health problems (nutrients and proteins found in meat).

If you need to consume supplements all the time, then what is the point of being vegan in the first place? I guess all that vegan movement started from the compassion and ethics point of view, and then spread into the healthy diets sphere, but that's just my reasoning, maybe i am wrong.

And for my time as a vegetarian, i ate a lot of fruits, especially bananas, beans, lentils, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, peanuts, nuts, i mean everything that has protein and hydrocarbons in it, but still something was missing. After a meal i was getting hungry very quick, after 2 hours, sometimes even after an hour or so, and i had low stamina (i trek mountains for recreation). Also i didn't liked how my digestive system worked.
When i started eating meat again, i got full with energy and strength, i mean it felt like a boost. I felt how my organism went back to normal... Anyway that's my experience...

And by artificial food i meant stuff like the lab grown meat for example. Truly man-made, not just man-prepared. I will be the first against use of animals for food the day when healthy lab grown meat is introduced for mass consumption. Until then, i will live by the rule of nature - the food chain.

Did you read what I wrote? Supplements aren't necessary in a vegan diet because the incredible variety of foods allow the individual to meet all their nutritional needs (with nutritional yeast meeting the need for B12). Most vegans have a general meal plan to make sure they're getting everything they need.

I am sorry Leo but i can't agree with you here. Yes, there is a need for supplements, (especially for B12), simply because there is not enough nutrients in "weed" only diet. That is also said in two of the articles in your links (if u read them before posting). Our bodies REQUIRE meat/animal products people like it or not, that's nature.

Most vegans i know don't have general meal plan, they only avoid anything that is originating from animals. There is no plan, because there isn't a plant that can supplement the nutrients that only meat/animal products have. I suggest you to try vegan diet and see the results for your self. (unless you already are, in that case i would suggest to you to go to a doctor to check for nutrient deficiency)

A former friend of mine has been maintaining a vegetarian diet with no animal products for her entire life -- she's 27 years old. She doesn't take supplements and she's always been in incredible shape for as long as I've known her. My best friend has been vegan for 9 years and only rarely takes supplements if she doesn't follow her plan properly for a given period of time.

B12 is very easy for vegans to get without supplements; they use nutritional yeast. Literally everything else can be found in plant matter, though it is more difficult to get without animal products (difficult, not impossible). The articles I linked do not state supplements are required; they only state that vegans and vegetarians have increased risks of certain deficiencies. While I've acknowledged this risk (as do most vegans), we also acknowledge that nutritional supplements aren't necessary if the individual properly plans their diet. Yes, meal planning is additional work but a proper plan ensures supplements are not required. Furthermore, I said most vegans have a meal plan -- there are at least 35 million vegans in the world; how many do you know?

For the record, no, I'm neither vegan nor vegetarian. I'm intending to adopt a pescetarian diet and I primarily advocate pescetarianism because its health benefits are equal to vegan and vegetarian diets while still allowing omnivores to eat animal products (also, if combined with aquaponics, it is one of the most sustainable diets known), however I still acknowledge the significant health, environmental, sustainability, and ethical benefits of plant-based diets as long as the individual understands how to meet their body's needs.

First off... proteins exist in plants.
Just because the market isn't filled with these, doesn't mean they don't exist.
Plant based diet (as opposed to meat based) has numerous health advantages for the body.
Granted, not every body functions in an identical capacity, but I don't think animals are the sole source of necessary proteins (many people manage to easily ruin their health with a meat based diet quite easily).

We had the ability to create synthetic meat for some time now without harming animals - and to have it be nutritious on top of everything else.

Its not my fault (not directly) the world decided to use the 'more profit' route.

As for hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics... the purpose of using those techniques in fully automated vertical farms (doable for decades) is to basically grow organic food free of pesticides, chemicals or GMO at a much faster rate and minimize our footprint on the planet.
Its also sustainable and environmentally sound.

"What besides might gives us the right to systematically exploit other species, humanely or otherwise?"

The problem with the 'speciesism' argument is that it applies equally to plants and bacteria. Nothing gives us the 'right', per se, to kill for food, however even ants enslave other animals and keep pets.

I would have no problem with every person adopting a vegan diet, however I will not force anyone to change their diet nor would I allow anyone else to force someone to change their diet. As long as people choose to eat meat, my only concern is to provide it in the most humane, efficient, and sustainable way possible; thus, aquaponics.

However animals typically contain complete proteins whereas other sources such as nuts, seeds etc. do not. Humans have more advanced logical processes than other animals of course, why not consume them the way other animals consume their prey? I get it, let's advance from this archaic mindset of eating other animals. It's difficult in a monetary system to raise animals in a humane way as well as preventing exploitation of workers. Take for instance, Smithfield. Human beings are omnivores by choice or by nature?