Three years ago, I talked about three trends in IT that were already affecting the way we practice development communication worldwide. What I said then remains true today. Let me recall those issues in the hope that colleagues in the field of devcom, especially devcom education, might refocus certain aspects of their skills development programs for development communicators. Thus:
Development communication practice today is changing much faster than it did decades ago. Suffice it to say that in the 50s to the 60s, we were focused on rural and agricultural development issues; in the 70’s our major concerns were in the areas of health, economic development, and population. In the 80’s, we added environmentalism to our fields of interests. Then in the 90’s we were into the beginnings of knowledge management.
Today, we are into varied concerns and development issues worldwide. We need, however, to strengthen further our efforts at gaining a deeper understanding of what and how exactly we are able to employ devcom as a tool for solving social ills.
A current concern, for example, is the science behind climate change. But as the climatic pattern changes for the worse, we find ourselves unable to explain more forcefully what this scientific phenomenon actually means in the lives especially of our urban poor. There are sporadic efforts linking human activities to climate change, but I feel that the gap is wide and deep. We really need to start at the beginning, which is appropriate scientific literacy from an early age.
Proper appreciation of the significance of climate change necessarily must tackle the issue of whether or not people, even of less schooling, are able to fully understand the meaning of this scientific phenomenon, including their respective responsibilities in insuring that such climate change does not adversely affect our daily lives. What seems clear to many is that the problems are the responsibility of governments but not theirs as individuals. In this respect, we may have been remiss of our responsibilities as development communicators.
To me, it is a question of whether or not we are able to educate our citizens regarding their responsibilities while at the same time enjoying the good life that Mother Earth provides us. Devcom, I have always believed, is both informing and educating in an entertaining way. This is not a new phenomenon. For years educators have been talking about learning being a pleasant experience if it is to be effective.
Significant Trends Influencing Development Communication Protocols
Development communication strategies and tools have always been influenced by developments in the field of communication technology. In the past, we had focused on the specialized use of media not necessarily in the manner that media are used the way they are in mass communication but in the focused use of media for the purpose of informing and educating people particularly in the conceptualization and implementation of human development.
There are very distinct trends in the information technology arena that are playing and will continue to play significant roles in the effective implementation of development communication programs. Let me focus on these trends briefly
Communication gadgets today are becoming smaller and smaller. In terms of capacity to store information, however, they are becoming more powerful. In the past, more information meant more space. Today, we have palm-sized computers. Remember your calculators, for example? They used to be large pieces of equipment on top of your equally large desks.
When computers started, they were large frames occupying entire floors of buildings. And we also used boxes of cards. Then small computers appeared. These were called table-top models. They initially used audio tapes, then floppy diskettes, then smaller disks, and now we have flash drives and minute external hard discs and small memory chips. As these gadgets become smaller and smaller, their capacity to store data and information have increased practically geometrically. In the very recent past, we talked about kilobytes, then gigabytes. Now we talk about terabytes.
Development communication practitioners today have taken note of the basic characteristics of our gadgets, which are of larger storage capacities and higher portability coupled with durability. Clearly, the direction is miniaturization in size and enlargement in capacity.
Miniaturization will continue and gadget designers will intentionally make things tinier and tinier even as they become smarter and smarter. Look forward to the day when all the data and information you need shall be stored in chips small enough to fit underneath the stick-on label on the power switch of your cellphones.
Among other things, digitization enables us to store and work on large volumes of data and materials without having to change the formats of these data and information. This power enables us to improve substantially our ability to understand and interpret data and information because digitized information makes it much easier for us to rearrange data and arrive at more meaningful interpretations.
The very basic reason why we need to digitize is to enable users, such as development communicators, to work with extremely important and delicate materials without having to worry about damaging the original material itself. We can, for example, run simulations on digitized versions of our data without fear of accidentally transforming or changing the original data. A good example of this is when experts use 3-D versions of, say, archeological artifacts for analysis and interpretation.
The additional advantage of digitization is that we can improve the quality of information. We can easily enhance pictures to convey more relevant meanings to people. We can store more data and information into smaller spaces that can be transported electronically anywhere for other communication experts to work on. And most of all, we can transport data and information at the snap of our fingers.
Here I am referring to convergence of technologies which has enabled us to combine the features of different media formats. For example, radio broadcasting now is done through computers and radio programs are even broadcast on television. All sorts of communication gadgets are put into use and the combined effects have been mind-boggling, something we never thought possible in the early days of radio broadcasting. Podcasting has long come into vogue and has changed the way in which broadcast communication is practiced, particularly in terms of production techniques.
We are now able to work with large volumes of data and information over much shorter periods of time with much easier processes. In fact, through mere click of the mouse we are able to transfer, save, store, and retrieve large volumes of materials in split-second. In short, information processing, storage, and retrieval have become possible in a wink of an eye.
There seems to be no limit to what we can do to improve our system of developing and sharing information. In other words, the volume of work is no longer a serious variable in performing our communication tasks.
Where Should We Be Heading?
Traditionally, it has always been the engineers, the developers of technology, who have been telling us, “well, here is a gadget, why don’t you find use for it?” Is it not now possible to tell the engineers, “I want to be able to do this and I can’t do it given existing gadgets, so why not develop one customized to achieve what I want to achieve?”
It’s 2012. Can we finally catch up?
I’m sure our colleagues at the UPLB College of Development Communication have thought of innovations in the area of devcom education. There’s a need to perhaps strengthen devcom training to reflect Dr. Nora Quebral’s new definition of development communication as the “science of human communication linked to the transitioning of communities from poverty in all its form to a dynamic, over-all growth that fosters equity and the unfolding of human potential” (Lecture delivered at the Honorary Doctorate Celebration Seminar, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, December 13, 2011).