13 July 2012

Mastering a Master's

I am in the process of writing a Master's. It took me a while to understand what actually the purpose of the exercise is. Now I start to comprehend that this work exists to provide evidence of one's ability to define a (/one) problem, describe a (/single) methodology, and present the (/one) outcome, all embedded in extant literature. This process then certifies the individual to address the (creation of the) body of knowledge.

The struggle to understand this is fuelled by the obvious paradoxes and oxymorons involved in the process. As if one could be able to understand and define problems, as if methodologies are like clockwork, and as if outcomes do inform, and if literature does contain it all. If one could, then only for an instant..

It took a while before I yielded to this process. It helped to think it not to be about the production of wisdom, but solely about the production of knowledge. Of course, this was explained from the outset, but never really landed with me. I guess one needs much wisdom to guide oneself through the obvious dilemma’s and structural flaws, and ethically stay in one piece.

In my view, in the world of big-data, this process is pretty useless actually. It should be the other way around; All the outcomes are already known, like in the Zambian Smart Care Electronic Health Record system all health profiles are already computed using all possible methods. Thus the most important issue one must focus on is: what are good questions?

Maybe fortunately, my subject matter is not yet embedded in the big-data cloud. It is about people in Africa's rural areas whom are not (yet) fully linked to global communication networks. I study the 'how' of access to information and communication technology. Although the value seem obvious and important, only a small amount of persons embark on such journey. Now, with little to build upon, what is the right question?

Technology, which was developed by the rich and powerful, is, of course, created to served their agenda. An agenda to save cost on (and dehumanizing) labour, and to maximize their profits. Although knowledge tells me I study technology, wisdom thus tells me that I deal with power. Power to know, power to be known. Power to connect, power to be connected. Power to control, power to be controlled. About what, for what, to what? When dealing with the 'how' of enabling communications network access through technology, what is the real question?

If the 'how' of ICT is solved, and access is ubiquitous, what happens to the balance of power? What is the best question?

The answers are already known: inequalities will continue to grow. Copiousness will lead to waste, shortage to war. However, lack of information leads to ignorance, and ignorance fuels opposition, which is not really helpful either. Undoubtedly, access to ICT will raise costs, while the digital divide continues to grow, and the affluent will segregate. So, what is the question here?

How to balance, how to partner, how to socially contract - for morality, and systemic change? That is the real question.

As you can see, I am getting through with the first phase of writing my Master's. Now, let's dive in the data!