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University of Michigan School of Information


Designing social technology for rural areas

Friday, 08/09/2019

When we think about the technological divide between urban and rural communities, our minds likely go to infrastructure—a lack of a physical grid, wiring or towers to connect those in remote communities.

While this is a large part of the issue, School of Information doctoral student Jean Hardy says a bigger concern is the lack of innovation in the way technological platforms are designed, which currently favors the urban. The tech products that emerge from so-called "superstar cities" such as San Francisco and New York take an urban-centric approach to the technological needs of everyday people, creating hand-me-down solutions that just don't work in rural settings.

Hardy says the funding model driving social technology design has concentrated the wealth from innovation into the hands of very few. By their very nature, for-profit social technologies such as Facebook or Yelp rely heavily on the monetization of user data and advertising. To be profitable, Hardy says, companies must scale to as many people as possible, prioritizing the needs of people living in cities. This not only ignores rural-urban differences but makes technology ineffective in rural communities.

Hardy argues that locally driven, nonprofit models of social technology are best served to address the needs of smaller populations.

Hardy's article, "How the Design of Social Technology Fails Rural America," won the Best Provocation award at the ACM Designing Interactive Systems conference in June 2019.


- UMSI News Service