Charlie Castro is a 24-year-old Colombian lawyer, business manager and entrepreneur; making everyone else her age question their utility and existence, me included.
In 2008 Charlie decided that she wanted to be a politician but quickly grew disillusioned with the profession. In 2011 she began work at Google and around the same time discovered an online class about law and e-commerce. During her research for the course she came across citations from Berkman Centre and began looking in to the organisation’s work. In 2013 she began Trazendental*, a digital marketing agency that conducted marketing research and handled brand management for major Latin American brands across Mexico, Chile and Colombia. In the same year she met Urs Gasser, current Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, at an international summit and says that this interaction marked an awakening in her professional development. She finally realised how she could be useful as a lawyer with experience in technology and the internet, and this is what brings her to the Berkman Centre this August (2015). Charlie will be working on the Youth And Media project at Berkman, and her research will focus on the digital divide in Latin America, as well as the gender disparities in the tech-world and how that filters in to Latin America.
Can you speak a bit more about the digital divide in Latin America, and why/how your work is relevant to this issue?
I am a huge critic of Latin American development– I believe that the statistics are hiding the reality in Latin America. It is highly inflated and does not show the huge gap of digital empowerment. For example, 80% of Latin Americans do not have access to the internet. ICT Ministers say that they have improved access to the internet and internet empowerment but this is not reflected. Only those in the upper class in Latin America have access to the internet because they have economic power. Overall only 18% of Latin Americans have access to the internet, and in Colombia there is only 12% access. The elite have internet access in their homes, offices and mobile phones. Another issue is that people don’t know how to use the internet, so digital literacy is an important factor to consider.
What is the potential of digital technology in respect of the digital divide? Are you seeing any specific local tech solving this problem?
There is huge potential for digital technology to develop solutions to common problems but we are not doing enough to reach that potential. Tech must serve human problems and we need to teach people how to use the internet and make it simple and accessible.
Do you think that developing nations should customize their technological needs according to the factors faced in their contexts, or aspire to global-north centric ideals of innovation and digitization?
We need to improve tech infrastructure and we need to do a comparative analysis of what other countries are doing. We should look to Africa and Asia as developing nations for examples, and this is not to copy but to personalize.
Do you see the digital divide as the responsibility of developed nations to address or that of developing nations? Or perhaps other stakeholders like NGOs etc.?
It is not productive to find responsibility outside of yourself. No one is going to do the job you have to do for yourself. The responsibility is that of our own leaders and states. Good for developed nations, they are doing well!
What are some of the legal issues faced by the digitally deprived in your country?
In Latin America people are highly dependent on the state so the role of the state is important and the legal challenge at a policy level relies on states developing and regulating better ICT infrastructure and policy. Internet access is too expensive for most people in Latin America because the policy does not support a competitive market.
Solutions like p2p are organic solutions for Latin Americans and this is because people need tech and to connect with a global world. Latin America has a backlog of 20 years in the tech world– we are arriving at modernisation 20 years later because of a lack of state-level leadership.
Why did you choose the Berkman Center?
After meeting Urs Gasser at an international summit I realized how I could be useful as a lawyer using tech and the internet. I realized how influential the Berkman Center is at ICT policy-making and thank god I was chosen to as a Fellow! I am very happy to be among an extraordinary group of thinkers!
What do you hope to accomplish as a Berkman Fellow?
I will be working on the Youth and Media project and hope to discover why children in Latin America don’t use the internet enough. After my time at Google I realised the gap between women and men in science, tech and mathematics and want to research this as it happens in Latin America too. ICT is governed by men and not this is not necessarily a good or bad thing but I want to know why there are so few women in tech.
Are there any Berkman projects you are particularly excited about, and why?
I am interested in the projects working in cybersecurity and big data. I also want to learn more about the intellectual property debates involving the internet.
Uvania Naidoo is a Berkman Center Intern and hopes to one day be employed as a Netflix Binge-Watcher, offering thorough, loud and thoroughly loud commentary throughout episodes. She is currently doing this important work for free but hopes to be paid for it in the very near future.
I’ve been a fan of the people and projects associated with Berkman for most of my professional career. I was a very early adopter and promoter of Creative Commons, and copyright and IP issues are an ongoing area of interest for me, especially as they relate to libraries. In 2004 I published what I believe was the very first Masters Paper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill licensed with a CC license. More recently, the work that has been done at Berkman with the DPLA has been very inspiring. Most of my work in libraries has been heavily influenced by the thinkers that have come through Berkman at one time or another in their careers: David Weinberger, Doc Searls, Danah Boyd, Dave Winer, Wendy Seltzer, John Palfrey, Clay Shirky, and many, many more. So between the projects and the people, I’m thrilled to be included in the same company.
How did this recent opportunity at the Berkman Center arise?
I had been considering application for several years, but after leaving my Associate Professorship at the University of TN at Chattanooga and starting my own company, I suddenly had the freedom to consider the possibility. After talking with some of the Berkman staff, I thought I had a shot, so I put together an application and was lucky enough that I was considered to be a good fit for the community.
What will you be focusing on as a Berkman fellow?
I am interested in the rise over the last several years of what I am calling the “hyperlocal webserver”. A number of projects are attempting to provide access to digital resources to users through the use of inexpensive, low-powered offgrid and offline webservers, including my own open source project LibraryBox. Others in this space include PirateBox, the RACHEL project servers, occupy.here, The IDEAS Box project, the OLPC project’s School Server, and many more. These projects have in common that all are designed to allow for local connectivity without access to the broader Internet. The power of localized digital delivery is only now being realized, especially in areas where there is insufficient infrastructure to support the demand for information access.
My interest is in the potential for these technologies (and possibly others) to allow for shadow networks to arise quickly where needed and wanted. The ever-shrinking costs of hardware capable of supporting these sorts of hyperlocal micronetworks drive the overhead for building one down to trivial amounts, but the technical knowledge needed to set up and manage one is still more than the average Internet user can handle. I want to reach out to the projects above, hardware makers, UX designers, and network engineers to try and develop a process and project that makes it as easy as possible for anyone to create or assist in community-based networks that allow for digital sharing and communication even when offline or offgrid. I am interested in what happens when communities are given the tools that can allow for unmediated and uncontrolled sharing and communication, and what sort of emergent behaviors and services might arise from those tools.
What research are you currently working on? Are there any challenges that you face?
In addition to the work with the LibraryBox Project, I’m also currently leading a Knight Foundation funded project called Measure the Future that’s working to develop open source software that runs on open and inexpensive hardware that will measure interior space usage in order to provide actionable analytics for libraries and other non-profits. My interests are largely driven by the opportunities that are emergent in the increasingly powerful and inexpensive hardware space for non-profits to bypass commercial solutions for homegrown and open ones.
How did you originally become interested in libraries?
My first go round in graduate school was doing work on a Masters and PhD in Philosophy, and academically the thing that drew me was the ability to range widely in learning, to be able to draw from many fields and use them to further my understanding. The same aspect drew me to librarianship, the utter openness of the field and the ability to move through a variety of interests, all of which still focus back on making libraries better.
Libraries also speak to a lot of issues that I care deeply about: social justice, intellectual property reform, helping the most vulnerable among us, and universal access to knowledge.
What do you think has been the most exciting change in how technology has changed libraries in the Digital Age?
Personally, I think that the move from consumption to creation is the biggest shift in libraries over the last decade or so. Libraries have never been purely about consumption of information (after all, many people went to libraries in order to find out information about a thing they were creating, whether that was an academic article or a piece of woodworking in their workshop). The movement of digital and now physical tools into the library is an opportunity for communities to re-think the role of the library. Whether that creativity manifests in the form of video editing, audio recording, or 3D printing, it’s an important and vital place for libraries to be.
What do you think will be the most exciting change in how technology affects libraries in the coming years?
There are several technologies that I’m keeping my eyes on at the moment, but not necessarily for how they will affect libraries. Library patron’s expectations of their library are driven by the experiences that they have outside of it. The technologies that they interact with elsewhere in the world are the things that libraries should be watching, because those are the things that our patrons will begin to expect from us, in one form or another. I’m particularly interested in ubiquitous computing, most often referred to in commercial terms as the Internet of Things and wearable computing, although both of these simply mean “computing power embedded everywhere all the time”. User experiences that are new or novel such as VR and AR are interesting as well.
What do you anticipate as the biggest hurdle in how technology integrates with libraries in the future?
The biggest challenge for libraries is that the laws of society don’t move as fast as the technology itself, and intellectual property law often confounds the desires of the library to share information more freely. The fact that digital information is licensed by libraries and said information is available at the whims of the publisher and not covered by First Sale rights is a long term issue that will ultimately lead to less information being available to the public.
Are there any other projects at Berkman about which you are particularly excited?
I’m very interested in the possibilities of blockchain technology, in social justice issues, and in the problems and potential of online security, all of which are parts of a variety of projects that will be a part of Berkman this year. I’m just excited to be a part of such a fantastic community.
This interview was conducted by Nick Rubin, a summer 2015 Berktern from Lakeside High School who is passionate about coding, activism, and puppies.