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Technology as a “tool” or human as a “fool”?

by Nova Ruth

I was registered with FTX to join the Wireless Mobile Technology for Advocacy training track. This track provides information on the various hardware and secure software packages available for mobile advocacy, including portal text messaging and mobile telephony. The track ran for four days and in that time participants learned about obtaining local and wireless internet connections, using open-source software (called “Frontline SMS”) for portal text messaging, and using the latest open-source software for mobile telephony called “Freedom Phone”. Almost every mainstream media provider already offers these features however we learned to source alternative media so we can perform advocacy securely and monitor the software independently as administrators. One of the major issues related to training in these technologies is that it is an area often viewed as “macho”. Training and information exchanges such as those provided by FTX are very much needed in the feminist area to establish an understanding that women are entitled to equal knowledge of technology.

The Feminist Technology Exchange (FTX) and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) are two related organisations aimed at increasing technology understanding and use within the women’s rights movement. FTX provides training in the development of technology, with a focus on its use for advocacy by feminist activists and organisations.

This year, all FTX participants were able to attend the annual AWID International Forum in Cape Town. The FTX training program, which I attended, was held prior to the commencement of the 2008 AWID Forum to encourage FTX participants to contribute their knowledge and apply it during the AWID Forum. During the four days AWID Forum, participants from FTX built an FTX hub that connected all FTX and AWID participants as a means of celebrating technology. The theme of this year’s AWID Forum was the ‘Power of Movement’, which led to discussions on a wide range of issues. One particular area discussed extensively was the use of technology for feminist advocacy. Another topic frequently raised in the sessions was that intergeneration, LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) issues, and disabled women are all actually women’s issues. There was also some petition for freedom across the countries held just outside the plenary. The Wireless track I had been participating in with FTX contributed an SMS portal called “FTX SMS” that informed FTX participants of the main outcomes of the FTX Hub and AWID Forum. The FTX hub was a space at the AWID Forum set up primarily to practice the knowledge we had gained during training, before applying those skills in real life.

EngageMedia is well-known as one of many alternative media sources for online video distribution. After participating in the FTX and AWID events, I began to realise that technology plays a huge part in all the changes that occur in the modern world. Each day I think to myself “AHA!” and “Yes” when I think about EngageMedia as the solution to the questions: Where will we screen the video? Who will watch it? What will the impact be after it? This is particularly true as EngageMedia’s focus on social justice and environmental issues match closely with the “movement” that was discussed at length throughout the AWID Forum. It is now clear in my mind, through my work with EngageMedia, how I plan to address these issues. Beyond the feminist theories mixed with technology that was discussed inside the FTX and the AWID Forum, the most important thing is to explore how we can positively utilise the technology that has already become faster and more effective than we ever imagined. I no doubt consider myself lucky to have attended the two events in Cape Town. Without the knowledge I gained, I may never have fully grasped the idea of how to use the technology as a “tool” rather than letting technology “fool” me.