Can technologies truly serve local, culturally diverse communities despite a history of mis-implementation? Bolivia is one of the most prominent nations in the world today where a citizen from indigenous origins serves as head of State. With the continued reign of Coca plant farmer Evo Morales to another five year term, it would seem that the cause of the indigenous people of Bolivia, 62% of the nation’s total population, would be advanced.
Morales’s government has specifically stressed the role of media and technology in their efforts to support Bolivia’s indigenous peoples. These efforts have been part of the larger goal of constructing a ‘plurinational state’, where cultural diversity in its deepest forms would be respected yet also working to serve the larger nation. Yet there are concerns that may be yet another way of empowering the few at the cost of many others.
Media and technology are implicated within this concern. A nation-wide indigenous television channel may replicate existing systems of inequality, where certain indigenous communities are given greater voice relative to others. Moreover, we know that ‘indigenous’ is hardly a lump sum term and that the realities faced by Amazonian Guarani people may significantly differ relative to the experiences of city-dwelling Aymara people living in the urban sprawl of El Alto or La Paz. Providing people on the margins access to technology may actually reinforce digital divides rather than solve them, given the disadvantageous infrastructure, literacy and social networks that they already have. Perhaps of greatest concern, just days after his re-election Morales in a public address criticized independent media networks within the nation, such as the progressive Radio-Erbol, calling aspects of their critical coverage as threats to the nation.
I have begun a project to investigate these ‘double codes’ of media and technology, in other words, the consistencies between the stated objectives of the Morales regime relative to a series of actual projects and practices on the ground across the nation. To study media and technology, one must not look solely at the tool itself but instead the ways in which it is appropriated, and the means by which it shapes and is shaped by the greater economic, cultural and political context.