INFOTEC: Technological Literacy in Mexico
Mexico was formed on a small island in the middle of a lake in 1325, by a nomadic tribe coming from a place known as Aztlán: the place of whiteness. After this civilization’s military imposition over other, long-inhabitants residents of this area, its territory grew over 52-year cycles. After each cycle, according to their beliefs, the universe arrived at its end and returned to start once again. Thus prospered the worshipers of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, until a series of prophets arrived who announced the end of the empire, and the subsequent arrival of white and bearded men who came from across the ocean. From 1521 and for the following 300 years, the Spanish imposed a new government upon the inhabitants of Moctezuma. It would not be until 1821, with the consummation of peninsular independence, and 100 years later with the Mexican Revolution, that a new progressive and reordered nation would be set in motion. During the definitive configuration of the Mexican State, a series of Secretaries, Organisms, Institutes, and Councils were conceived. In these, the enormous national budget, fruit of the collective force under the name of the public treasury, was made available to offer the people promises of peace, order, and progress– promises that had been floating since the dictatorship that sparked the revolution. A colossal structure was thus idealized, aimed to achieve these standards; among them, science and technological literacy became coveted as part of the necessary development for a globally modern and open Mexico.
That’s how, in 1970, the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (National Council of Science and Technology) was formed. It established itself as a public entity– decentralized from the state and autonomous in technical, operative, and administrative function– in order to articulate the federal government’s public policies and promote the development of scientific research, technology, and innovation. Its end goal is to push the country’s technological modernization. Since its creation until 1999, two reforms and one law were presented to coordinate and promote technological and scientific development in our country. In 2002, a new Law of Science and Technology was enacted. Better known as CONACYT, this organization is responsible for positioning Mexico as a scientific and technological republic, capable of offering the world great progress and inventions, such as color television, the birth control pill, and the tortilla machine– all illustrious Mexican inventions. However, the Fourth Transformation, slogan of the new Mexican government, seems to coincide with a global tendency called, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” (I will dedicate a future article to this topic). The political purge thus recently occurred in the said National Council of Science and Technology, it arrived at the optimal moment, if we really wish to continue the course of technological literacy advancement on a global scale.
One of the pillars in non-official Mexican education supposes that giving the underprivileged population technological literacy will contribute to reducing what some call the “digital gap.” Although being honest, in a country with the poverty standards that Mexico has (where there are regions and nuclei of populations really in the abysmal of progress), it’s surprising to verify that the Mexicans living there have smartphones and internet access, in spite of the obvious lack of nutritional and economic resources. That said, they do not use the technology to its full potential, nor take advantage of all its possibilities. We could even say that the digital gap doesn’t merely refer to internet access and computers, but to the preexisting ignorance about these tools’ uses and possibilities.
One branch of the CONACYT is called INFOTEC. It is in charge of administering a project whose objective is to not only close the digital gap but also to lead new technology users to take more advantage of digital tools. INFOTEC (Research and Innovation Center in Information and Communication Technologies of CONACYT) stands by a mission of making it possible for organizations and individuals to develop through Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It’s an institution with over 40 years of dedicated work, with offices in Mexico City and Aguascalientes. It leverages key projects that accelerate Mexico’s progress towards an information and knowledge-oriented society. The latest project was carried out through a postgraduate academic offer, totally unique in Mexico, with 7 Masters programs and 1 Doctorate. It is directed towards developing the talents and competencies that the ICT industry demands. One of the hubs is found in the south of Mexico City, in a region known as Tlalpan. In the indigenous language, the name means, “on firm ground,” something meaningful and even propitiatory, speaking just form a linguistic perspective. The other hub is located in the “Circuito Tecnopolo Sur” (South Tecnopolo Circuit) in Pocitos, Aguascalientes. This is one of the most privileged locations on Earth, which saw the birth of one of my personal favorite graphic artists: José Guadalupe Posada.
INFOTEC offers programs in two formats, online and in-person, in either of its locations (Mexico City and Aguascalientes). The postgraduate programs offered are: M.S. in Data Science, M.S. in Direction Strategy of Information and Communication Sciences, M.S. in Data and Information Science, M.S. Information and Communication Technology Law, M.S. in Innovation Management of Information and Communication Technology, M.S. in Embedded Systems and Economic Regulations and Competition of Telecommunications, PhD in Data Science.
Now, although INFOTEC’s proposals are quite clear and ambitious, some points of common sense remain pending. For example: What are the alternatives to taking technology to a population that has never been in contact with it? It’s a question that, in addition to being evident to a certain point, changes our perspective. This is true especially if those reading these lines consider themselves digital natives; that is, they were born in the ‘90s, and have been in contact with devices since they were very young, and, before asking anyone, consult their questions on the web. So, let’s imagine for a moment that there are people watching computers arrive as something foreign, even terrifying to a point. How do we build confidence in these generations, necessary for them to decide to learn and improve technological literacy? Even more, what pages, programs, or devices should we teach them? This is part of what we call technological literacy. It’s a challenging scene if we consider that many of those in their 60s and 70s have the free time and economic power needed to enter in the digital panorama; but it’s an unknown space, even knowing that they can have a virtual identity, an alter ego that represents them in binary language, and which algorithms use as a data snack.
The Ideals of a Digital Life
Assuming that we’ve overcome socio-economic barriers, and achieved the goal of providing more sectors of the population internet access, and assuming that they use it regularly until it becomes a part of their lives, what is still to be determined is how they will use it. It’s true that, just as free choice exists in daily life, there should be something like free will in digital life: connect and walk, explore the web– that’s why it exists, all the information and content is there for you. However, a phrase continues to spark my interest, which I heard once from a friend. It refers to the fact that some regulation of use should exist over the hours invested and pages visited on the internet. Evidently, this could turn trivial, and although not everything is porn or illegal pages that foment hatred and immoral conduct; truly, laziness and vulgarity also abound in the virtual tide. How do we promote moral use of the internet? It’s an upcoming topic in this space.
The digital era has many possibilities, like the number of people estimated to be connected to the internet by 2020: 4.1 billion. In regards to Mexico, according to the magazine, El Economista, Sonora is the region with the highest connectivity in homes per state (81.4%), 28.5% above the national average. In Sonora, Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo, Baja California, Nuevo León, Mexico City, Sinaloa, Jalisco, and Colima over 60.0% of homes feature the internet connection. The regions with the least access to this service are Oaxaca and Chiapas, with just 29.5% and 24.6%, respectively. These stats don’t cease to be interesting when we remember that these are the Mexican Republic’s most economically disadvantaged states, where the greatest number of ideological revolutions have occurred throughout the nation’s history. It’s as if technological access in a way puts the breaks on the contesting sprouts of the prevailing ideology.
Access and Excess
The respective statistics are clear: 90% of people use the internet for entertainment purposes, and only 15% have carried out a financial operation via digital banking. That is to say, there also exists what has been called “digital illiteracy.” This is interesting if we consider that it’s one thing to have internet access, but quite another thing to think why, to what end, and how much we take advantage of the hours we daily spend online. Having internet access doesn’t guarantee a status or value, but rather that many people are genuine addicts to connectivity. They have pushed their personal and human relationships to the side, preferring to surf the web, and not always against the current…
Verdict and Expectations
After writing these minimal notes about technological literacy and its possibilities in Mexico, I view the INFOTEC Lab as a positive project. Thanks to CONACYT, the idea to take technological tools to the rest of the population that doesn’t fit in the typical panorama of “smart citizen” (superior studies, multiculturality, high socioeconomic level, permanent connectivity, etc.) can bring benefits, not only in the field of education, but also in the creative platform. Other similar projects (like liks.co, which I’ll introduce in a future article), start from social entrepreneurship that involves technology which saves the lack of taking advantage of the 21st century. It will allow us, as a nation, to put Mexican ingenuity on the scene, having given to the world of inventions, proposals, and advantages that the digital era gladly accepts. This can happen once we close our gap, contribute solutions, and continue connecting equidistant dots.