07 October 2011

Information Divide

So, here we are, in Zambia, trying to study and learn, to get en par, and even try to prepare publications about our findings. Of course, we try to review and deduct knowledge from those that went before us by assessing experiences, studies, and subsequent writings of them. Unfortunately, often, we cannot.

Try, for instance, to search for the following citation: Linda van der Colff, "Leadership lessons from the African tree” (2003). A website called 'deepdyve.com' pops up and provides a one page teaser. The document can be accessed for USD 5 per page, USD 25 for the Portable Document Format. Apparently it is published in “Management Decision , Volume 41 (3): 5, Emerald Publishing – Apr 1, 2003”. A journey to the Emerald website: 'USD 25 for the pdf please'.

We virtually never see magazines - even if one subscribes or buys - as most do not make it through the postal system. We pay almost USD 10,000 per month for a limited 2 mbs internet connection to provide information access for about 300 users in our community. Such cost is stretching us beyond limits already.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of internet payments from a country without credit cards and relative low amount of debit cards – after 5 years of filling in forms and persistence I got my fist debit card one year ago - who would I actually pay, and for what? Is this a write up of study results, and if so, who paid for its execution? Emerald? Who did participate in the work? I cannot access, thus do not know, but I can imagine that our African communities did contribute. Did they get paid for that? I doubt it. Do they get paid when I furnish hard currency to be able to read about them? I doubt that too.

What I normally do is hope someone, somewhere, put a scanned PDF on the internet, and that Google finds it. And then I download, from wherever. Gratefully, this is the case quite often, but for this case Google does not give me any link. Again, no clue what the document contains, only 'non-constructive thoughts' remain, like ones depicting exclusion, 'not being invited to the party', being disadvantaged. Such thoughts discourage and do not harmonize nor motivate.

USD 25 represents a lot of money in our community. It represents half a month salary for many persons around me. Thus, is it ethical to send that money to Deepdyve or Emerald, or to others that often pop up, like Springer or Elsevier? Actually, these are names of companies or magazines that I have never seen, nor have been able to access, nor read any of its articles.

Where to investing our precious financial resources that have arrived in rural Africa, often involving much hard work from the community. The choice is rather easy. I just do not know these magazines, nor the publishers, I have never seen any of these magazines, thus I can only guess to what I miss. Only feelings remain, like 'I miss something, I am being excluded, others in the West whom are able to pay or be lucky to be near a library do have a head-start, however am I up-to-date?'.

The people around me smile, and I am grateful to live in a unique context and culture. We have acquired some knowledge to their needs based upon our own observations. All this balances, and I have no difficulty choosing for investments benefiting my neighbour, and regard the other information as if it does not exist. Actually, it does not exist for us in Africa, as if we live on a different planet.