Bolivia: Learning From Your Neighbors

Sometimes it is not such a bad thing to be a couple of years behind our neighbors when it comes to citizen media. With one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the region, it is no wonder that citizen media has yet to hit the mainstream in Bolivia.

One major advantage is that we can learn from others and watch what has worked. We've had our share of BarCamps (even the barcamp held at the highest altitude), as well as citizen media coverage of elections, blogger conferences, and Twitter meet-ups. Certainly we were not the first country to organize these activities, however, each took place in the local context of these communities.

Another advantage is that we can see what other countries have struggled with, and look for solutions to improve on it. From the early stages of the citizen media boom, it was quite apparent that blogging remained a privileged activity. Those who had readily available and steady access to the Internet – and more disposable time and money – were the voices that were being heard. It was no different in Latin America, which is why projects like Rising Voices were created.

The first article I wrote for Global Voices in 2005 about the state of Bolivian blogosphere revealed that at the time was that blogging was still in its infant stages and was dominated by ex-pats and Bolivians living abroad who wrote in English. It would remain that way for the next couple of years, until a project called Bolivian Voices was created with the clear mission to introducing citizen media to underrepresented groups.

Soon after, many Bolivian bloggers from across the country joined in to assist with this project. We all knew that a more diverse blogosphere would be beneficial and perhaps, in a very small way, encourage dialogue in a country that is divided on many different lines. Since then, the project helped train and, more importantly, support indigenous bloggers, rural bloggers, and even new bloggers that write in the indigenous language of Aymara.

el alto

A View of El Alto

Even in El Alto, where it was once believed that there was only 5 bloggers in a city of close to 1,000,000 residents, the landscape has changed. There is now a vibrant blogging, tweeting, and entrepreneurial community that is well represented on the national scene. Whether or not the spread of citizen media in cities like El Alto, was inevitable or whether the Bolivian Voices project helped jumpstart the process is not important. What is important that we are seeing a more pluralistic blogosphere and twittosphere than we did one, two, and especially five years ago.

However, it is not enough, and that is why it is bad news that Bolivia is years behind our neighbors that have more connected societies with more affordable internet connections. Despite the fact that yes, there are more people writing, sharing, commenting, and uploading content than ever before, there is still a huge sector of society that has yet to discover the power of being better informed, being able to communicate directly with someone with whom they may not normally cross paths, or being able to express one's thoughts and ideas without any sort of obstacle.

It is an exciting time in Bolivia because there is yet a lot to accomplish.

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