Proof, if proof were needed, that Twitter can save the world: nine technology executives, including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, are on a jaunt to Iraq, courtesy of the US Department of State, which wants to involve new media in the process of rebuilding the beleaguered country.
Attendees include Meetup’s Scott Heiferman, and representives of Google, AT&T and YouTube, most of whom are tweeting away. Raanan Bar-Cohen, of WordPress folk Automattic, has been blogging in detail about the experience, noting the ubiquity of Windows XP, the reliance on the public sector over the private, and the popularity of mobile phones.
There is a demand for technology in the war-torn country: according to Bar-Cohen, mobile phones are “nearly universal”, although multiple providers mean many people have two or more phones. He noted that “99 per cent of mobile users in Iraq are on pre-pay”, which demonstrates the importance of cash in an economy that is beset by corruption.
He also noted that only five per cent of Iraqis have Internet access in the home, but plans are afoot to cable the whole country. Despite suffering from sabotage attacks, at this rate, war-torn Iraq will have better broadband than the UK. The difference is, of course, that over here it’s the ISPs that sabotage our connections.
Of course, this is more than an effort to get more Iraqis tweeting, blogging and arguing over Britney videos in YouTube comments. According to a Department of State release, the Silicon Valleyites will “provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building”. Blimey, not much to ask, then.
Access to the Internet is a good thing — just ask the Chinese — so, if digital inclusion helps change Iraq for the better, then we’re all for it. As long as all involved keep tweeting.