Till I received a PDF of the chapter I wrote for Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice: A Treatise on Technology and Dispute Resolution as it appears in the tome, I had entirely forgotten about it. Ethan, Daniel and Mohamed are three of the finest minds in ODR today, and writing this chapter for them was how I wish it would be for every invitation to contribute to a book – exciting and fun. Glad the book’s now out and on Amazon. Sri Lanka’s postal service has eaten my first copy, but another I’ve been promised is on the way. Looking forward to reading the other chapters as well.
As I note in the start of my own, titled ‘Mobiles and ODR: Why We Should Care’,
The events earlier this year in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries in the region commonly referred to as the Middle East were powerful markers of how information and communications technologies (ICTs) undergird struggles for democratic governance. It is not only these struggles they support. ICTs are in and of themselves mere tools, and are increasingly used by repressive governments for their own parochial ends, in stark opposition to those who seek to foster democracy and strengthen human rights. This is a double-edged sword, for the same ICTs that help bear witness and strengthen accountability are those that place activists at greater risk.
It is no different with mobile telephony and communications. The mobile phone is to many in this region as well as in my own region – South Asia – their first PC. Mobiles today are more capable in fact than average PCs were a few years ago. They are more pervasive, affordable and utilitarian. The mobile today is first a device for the exchange of information through text messages (SMS), including mobile commerce, and only then a device for voice conversations. In the case of smartphones, the mobile is even more akin to a PC, revolutionising in the vernacular as well as in English, the way content is consumed, disseminated and archived through text, video, audio and photography.
Few in the world of ICT for Development (ICT4D) saw this coming. Fewer in peacebuilding and conflict transformation saw the potential for mobiles even a few years ago. My Masters thesis and other academic writing at the time, based on my work in Sri Lanka using ICTs and mobiles to transform violent conflict, is still flagged as some of the first forays into what has today become a praxis and theory far more studied, yet perhaps still as misunderstood.