Can you hear me now? : smartphones, youth, and development in a Dominican informal settlement

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Eggert, Brian Patrick

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Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) is a relatively new area of research in the field of Information Studies. Despite its novelty, ICT4D shares themes and theories with a number of academic disciplines, including sociology, geography, and Development Studies. ICT4D research aims to identify ways in which personal devices and telecommunications networks can improve governance, education, healthcare, and employment in the developing world and in disadvantaged communities. With the intention of testing these themes and theories in a community that is underdeveloped both locally and globally, I performed an ethnographic study in Los Platanitos, an informal settlement in Santo Domingo, to assess smartphone use and access among youth. Despite a lack of Internet access in homes and the unaffordability of subscriptions to cellular data, most youth in Los Platanitos find ways to use social networks like Facebook and WhatsApp daily, if not far more frequently. This study attempts to explain how this is possible and whether the uses qualify as development in a way consistent with literature from ICT4D and its many associated disciplines. Metatheories like the network society and mobilities paradigm offer necessary frameworks in which to discuss these questions, while at the same time, the localization of the study and nuanced struggles of youth in Los Platanitos offer a case in which to test the scalability of the theories themselves. In a context where basic needs such as food, water, and sanitation are not readily available, ICT4D research must focus on the users, like the youth of Los Platanitos, in order to link the technology to the development goals.


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