Friday, February 15, 2013

Campos del Cambio: Technology in Latin America

[Note to Reader: This is the first blog post in a running theme-blog series examining technology in Latin America. This topic is important on a personal and professional level; having lived in Central America and studied Latin American cultures, I feel connected to the region. As a techno-humanist (whatever that means), I believe in open access…in the purposeful creation, production, and proliferation of technologies as a means to achieve greater social equity, as a means to improve living standards and quality of life; as a means to more fully express sociocultural life.]

Technology must expand in Latin America and the world needs Latin American technological innovation.

In Latin America is housed an audacious heterogeneity of life. This is a region where complex economic, social, political, and environmental issues are problematized by pressing concerns of human rights and social justice.

Shifting Demographics. 
The traditional view of Latin American demographics paints a region of high birth rates, extended familial groups, and youth-heavy populations. Things are changing. The region is undergoing dramatic shifts in birth rates, in population concentration and densities, in political systems, and in levels of industrial and economic infrastructural growth.

Riordan Roett (Sarita and Don Johnston Professor and director of Western Hemisphere Studies at John Hopkins University) wrote, “Fertility rates—the average number of lifetime births per woman—have fallen dramatically over the last 30 years. They are now near, at or even beneath the 2.1 replacement rate—the fertility rate needed to maintain a stable population from one generation to the next one—in most countries. At the same time, life expectancy has sharply increased and is fast approaching developed-world levels. The result will be a dramatic slowdown in population growth and an equally dramatic aging trend.”

In the face of conventional thought, based on projected growth, it is hypothesized that significant nation-states in Latin America (Brazil, Chile, & Mexico) will have majority older populations by 2050, exceeding numbers in the United States. This is significant because these three countries have the most advanced technological infrastructures in the region.

Contrast these data with World Bank reports that, “LAC’s growth performance in the last 50 years is one of the world’s lowest and the region’s per capita income is only 30% that of the US. However a mix of unprecedented growth and economic stability over the past decade pulled 74 million people out of poverty and helped close the inequality gap in LAC. The region has also seen the rise of its middle class. In spite of the global financial crisis the region remained stable. Overall, LAC economies will need to adapt to the changing global circumstances to remain competitive and continue growing at a solid pace. Boosting productivity and innovation are essential.”

These are challenging prospects, yet supporting bottom-up, grass-roots techno-growth, as seen in the burgeoning markets in Brazil, will go a long way in spurring innovation.

The macro-infrastructural challenges in LA are significant. Boosting technological productivity and innovation will have to occur on a number of levels. The standard players are involved: home nation and foreign governments, academia, private industry groups, media makers, and NGOs. Maybe though, conventional wisdom here, much like demographics, serves as a poor guide.

As noted above, a targeted, grass-roots approach that focuses on organic development of technology at the local level (via projects such as community incubators, start-up funding, university competitions and prizes, and partnerships with SMEs)…in cities with stable(ish) socioeconomic infrastructural development where technological growth is tailored by participants in those cities to meet the unique needs of the inhabitants of those cities and surrounding geographies.

Fundamental shifts in familial structures, ecology concerns, drug wars, human rights issues, major geographic logistics issues, organized crime growth, sustainability issues, uncertain banking systems, and volatile political climates problematize the growth of technology in Latin America.

The region’s more robust economies (Brazil, Chile, Columbia, and Mexico) will continue to play critical roles in the nascent development of technology. Future posts will explore each of these nation’s techno-socioeconomic situations.

Adaptation is a skill often driven by necessity. Imagine if the wide-ranging cultural creative expressions in Latin American (as seen in music, art, film, and sport) could be channeled and expressed in the development of technologies.

The world needs Latin American technological innovation

Detailed reports on technology in the region can be found at FIRST: “A Support Action funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme in order to foster International Cooperation in the areas of Future Internet and ICT Components and systems between Europe and Latin America.”

Latin America Open Government Partnership
Latin American Demographic Changes
Latin American Environmental Concerns
Financial Development in LA and Caribbean
Data Centers in LAC
State of Finance in LAC
Socioeconomic Database Latin America
SEO in Latin America
UNEP Reports


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