“It seems to me that there’s a deontological question we have to address here: how can we keep talking about using technology to build peace while ignoring the very real conflicts that the development of this technological hardware produces? Whether it is the violence around the mining of coltan in DR Congo to make necessary parts for phones or the widening economic gap, a key early warning indicator, that is being created in Mozambique as a result of the extractive industry, to more and more technology taxing energy grids in many places, further disenfranchising some sectors of the population not to mention the harmful environmental impact and a host of other issues?” That is the question that I asked of the “Introducing Tech to Traditional Peacebuilding” panel on Saturday afternoon of the Build Peace 2015 conference.
The response I got from the panel was not particularly satisfying. What surprised me, however, is the number of participants who came up to me throughout the remainder of the conference thanking me for asking the question or saying that I’d really struck a chord (many more than, say, those who congratulated me on the PEACEapp award for the Peace Superheroes). I’m not sure if it’s because my interlocutors had worked in various African countries which are literally being mined of their natural resources in order to produce technological hardware and/or the accompanying energy needs and saw the irony of implementing a cell phone based intervention to address a conflict borne out of the production of those very cell phones. Or if there happened to be a significant number of rabid environmentalists at the conference. Or maybe this was just a nerdy way of flirting with me.
In the time since the conference (one week of which I spent in Sweden which has one of the highest levels of technological penetration in the world and the rest of the time traveling around Mozambique which has one of the lowest levels of technological penetration), I’ve further mulled over the question. At Build Peace 2015, when there was discussion about the divergence of technology and peace, it focused on the use and implementation of the technology (securing data, protecting identity, legal aspects etc). What seemed to be lacking, however, was taking into account the whole value chain and lifecycle of technology (especially the hardware), from looking at the resources necessary for its production, through the planned and/or rapid obsolescence of many technological products, all the way to the environmentally safe way of disposing of technological hardware. In other words, the conversation about “Do No Harm” while using technology for peacebuilding was too narrowly focused on the “active use” part of the hardware’s lifecycle.
Perhaps there is an element of personal bias in this, as I have a tendency to look at big picture systems and getting righteously indignant about structural violence (in the Galtungian sense). So I spend a lot of time being mad at economic systems and government institutions. And it is why within the Peace Superheroes digital game, we wanted to take a broad spectrum approach and address not only direct violence, but also cultural and structural violence across fault lines that include center-periphery, human-nature, access to information etc. We don’t yet know if taking a big systems approach to game design is an effective way to teach peacebuilding skills in a fun and engaging way, but we are certainly aiming to find out and iterate as we need to. Certainly, it has been at times overwhelming in the conception stage.
So in order to not completely impede participants at Build Peace 2016 while tackling this issue of divergence between technology and peace, I suggest the following:
- discussion about the whole lifecycle of technology in at least one panel and/or presentation
- sharing of resources about most conflict sensitive and sustainable tech manufacturers and products
- a targeted direct action taken by the conference participants to educate/ persuade/ collaborate with a tech manufacturer to help them develop more conflict sensitive products.
This article originally appeared on the Build Peace blog.