Technology For Social Good: Visual Tropes


This photo essay explores a repeated visual trope of images in the space of technology-for-social-good that are centered on brown hands and a digital artifact.

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Facebook Free Basics Website Screenshot

This image, on the home page of the Free Basics/ project by Facebook, is typical of the visual tropes that are expressed by the technologists involved in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) and related technology-for-social-good projects. The image is centered on a digital artifact, in this case a mobile phone, held by brown hands. The smiling face is blurry and mostly out of the frame. It would seem that the hands being brown and the background being a blurry beige are enough to signal that this is a context where free internet is needed. 

Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) Texbook Cover

This is the cover of the first dedicated textbook to the topic of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). The cover repeats the visual trope we saw in the Facebook Free Basics website image: the image centers on a digital artifact, held in a brown hand. This time there are beaded bracelets on the hands and a colorful scarf in the background. Again, these appear to be what indexes the image as being technology for a context that needs development.

Banner of Michigan ICTD (Lab) Website

Here we see another image that repeats the centrality of brown hands. This time instead of a mobile phone, the image is centered on the hand pointing at what appears to be a colorful printout of a digitally-created artifact. The background is a woven straw mat and the woman wears a print garment that does not appear Western. The research group is highly successful in publications and in projects that have produced desired impacts. Members of the lab have also produced critiques of ICTD and its attendant problems. 


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Created date

December 3, 2019