#89 Development + Technology P*rn
Nothing illustrates the breathtaking syncretization of ancient and modern living and the beliefs that EAWs espouse than a person in native dress (or half-naked) using some sort of new technology.
Every EAW remembers the first time she was surprised by a local person using advanced technology. Maybe it was a Peruvian indigenous leader with a pair of Ray Bans, a baseball cap and a hefty brick of a mobile phone clipped onto his belt… or a young woman walking along with a basket on her head and chatting on a mobile… or a sly teenager pirating video games or DVDs and selling knock off Chinese gadgets in the local market.
“Oh my god, such a great example of the adaptability, capacity and intelligence of local people!” the EAW thought, as she tried to take an unobtrusive photo. “Such a contrast between development and tradition! Simply amazing how these ancient peoples have integrated modern tools! This is exactly what our organizations need to be doing: Celebrating local customs and modernizing people at the same time!”
The EAW loves photos of native peoples using new technologies. And if she can’t get a shot of someone actually using technology, a photo of an exotic other simply displaying, holding or posing next to a new technology is also fine, especially if it’s for a glossy donor report or a newspaper or magazine article.
It’s not just EAWs who love these photos. Donors love these photos. High quality pictures of poor or “native” people using a mobile phone, pushing a bizarre-looking water-carrying contraption (designed “for the other 90%” by a creative engineering student living in Boston or San Francisco) along a dirt road, or preparing a traditional dish on a clever looking improved stove — these are all cover-of-the-annual-report quality shots. If the subject posing next to the technology is a woman or a youth and they are wearing elaborately hand-woven clothing, you are golden.
The smart EAW will switch up the type of exotic person and the gadget or innovation being used in these photos so that there appears to be a variety of projects. Keep ’em coming and the donor will forget to ask for an impact report. They will be so star struck by the range of cultures, native dress and gadgetry, they will forgo any questions about sustainability or ROI or what happened a year after the photo was taken. If the EAW takes enough of these pictures, she might even get invited to TED, opening up a whole new set of possibilities for herself and her innovative organization!
An important thing to highlight when writing about the intersection of modern tools and old ways is that new technology is an efficient and effective way to help natives to preserve their cultures, traditions and local knowledge. A picture-perfect photo that emphasizes this can evoke a variety of emotions, including fascination, lust, nostalgia, awe, respect, surprise, paternalism, spirituality and oneness with nature.
It might seem that this love for photos of the natives with technology is all “development+technology porn” (a variety of “poverty porn“). But this is where the down-to-earth breed of EAW steps in to save the day.
This EAW will still take photos, but he would never ask people to pose for an unnatural and exploitative shot. This EAW is all about reality and empowerment. This EAW likes photos of exotic others actually using technology because they shout to the viewer: “Stop your paternalism! These people are not backwards! They use mobile phones even better than we do. Hell, they probably had a mobile phone before even you or I did.”
This EAW will snap photos that build in some native humor because it makes him just that much cooler. He is so one-with-the-people that they can all laugh together about modern technology and the silly donors’ amazement at the natives’ use of it. This EAW can share jokes with his native peers about how other EAWs and people who aren’t in-the-know don’t realize that natives have always used technologies, sometimes even bringing those technologies to the attention of missionaries and colonizers in times past.
No matter what kind of EAW, development + technology p*rn is a big hit.