Examples of People’s Adoption Behavior of ICTs Throughout Time

Final EC Opportunity –

In my theoretical paper, I touched on three case studies briefly in explaining the role of Information and Communication Technologies in mobilizing people towards a common goal. What I didn’t elaborate on at the time, was looking closely at people’s attitudes and mind set around new technology tools and the state of diffusion of innovations present at the time.

To give some context, I was inspired (having been born and raised in Damascus, Syria) to choose a political topic for my final project, given the recent series of Arab revolutions, or what has been recently referred to as the “Arab Spring”. My goal is to explore the relationship or association between diffusion of innovations and political activism by reflecting on three specific political events defining a reasonable timeline, and analyzing people’s adoption behavior of new Information and Communication Tools (ICTs).

For the “past” mile stone, I looked at the Spanish Civil War, which occurred between 1936 and 1939. The war broke out when a military coup was conducted by a group of conservative generals who wished to overthrow the current republican government. At the time, radios were mainly used for entertainment purposes even when the great depression had made it difficult for families to keep a job or put food on the table. According to Wilson in Behind the Dial: Radio in the 1930s, and for the sake of providing comparison, in the late 1920s, nearly one-third of American households owned a radio device. That percentage rose to 60 % by 1933. While the numbers for countries in Europe may not have been that high, we do know that radio devices were beginning to pick up momentum and gain popularity among families in Spain and that advanced developments at that time allowed radio networks to reach broader audiences all over the world.

But when Hans Von Kaltenborn became the first American reporter to broadcast live from battle field, giving listeners at home a dose of reality and a glimpse of what it was like during the Spanish Civil War, people’s perceptions towards radio’s popularity as a powerful means for communications shot through the roof. Moreover, many journalists and writers wrote personally about this war such as Orwell and Hemingway which led the Spanish Civil War to become known as the “first media” war.

For the “present” mile stone on the other hand, it was interesting how the availability of computers which were brought in from the US to instill oppression and racial discrimination in South Africa have played a reverse role helping the rebels in winning the struggle against the “Grand Apartheid”. According to the Computers and The Apartheid Regime in South Africa study conducted by CS students in Stanford, during the post South African Anti-Apartheid movement which ignited in 1960 and lasted well throughout the 1980s, South African governments relied heavily on computers in their federal offices, financial institutions and commercial establishments to ensure segregation between blacks and whites. It was said that all trade functions would come to a complete halt should computers exportation be blocked by Western countries. However, having this infrastructure in place helped the rebels in brining ANC leaders (African National Congress) back from exile using non-military measures by building a purposed encrypted network of underground activists using international communication systems. These operatives helped the opposition organize, mobilize, share intelligence and communicate with leaders in exile!

As for the Arab Spring which is currently taking place, it is difficult to confirm any findings at this point since 2011 is considered the “future” in research years. However, we have enough writings suggesting a significant role played by social media such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube in amplifying the people’s message and spreading the facts to the rest of the world. The eruption of revolts in the Arab World was sparked by the self-immolation of a young street vendor in Tunisia with the name Sidi Bouazizi. While this act in itself is not the first of its kind, it was the people’s determination to speak up and their new behavior towards leveraging social media tools to get their message across that made this event more significant than the Tunisian dictatorship could’ve imagine. People took to the streets in a rock in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Similarly in Egypt – While literacy rate in Egypt is slightly above 70%, the majority of the population resides in one of three main cities or regions in the country with Internet access and ample Internet café sites. The one event that caused the revolution to break out was the killing of a young Egyptian man; Khaled Saeed, who was beaten to death by Egyptian police. Again, while this isn’t an unusual practice in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria and others in the region, it took the initiative of one individual; Wael Ghonim – Head of Marketing at Google who moved people through an emotional interview following his 11-day arrest for hosting the “We are all Khaled Saeed” Facebook page.  The only significant difference here is yet again the people’s willingness to use new technologies to speak up.

I had hoped that by this time, the Syrian Revolution would have prevailed and I would be discussing the factors of its success, but unfortunately, we are not there yet. While social media tools helped bring down decades of dictatorships, Syria offers a whole new set of challenges were leveraging Facebook, You Tube or Twitter may not have it weight as it did in Tunisia and Egypt. 


NARMIC. Automating Apartheid – U.S. Computer exports to South Africa and the Arms Embargo. Omega Press, Philadelphia, 1982. Retrieved on 05/23/2011 from http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~cale/cs201/apartheid.hist.html

Wilson, D. Radio in the 1930s [Date of publication not specified]. Retrieved on 05/23/2011 from http://www.radiostratosphere.com/zsite/behind-the-dial/radio-in-1930.html



  1. Very nice, Ruba, thanks for sharing this with a larger audience.

  2. […] (blogging and selective exposure), Madeline (U&G), Rachael (youth and social change), Ruba (examples of ICT adoption over time), Tarja (economics of social production), Teri (social history of American technology), Thor (IM […]

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