Say you are a very eager professor with a lot of time and money in your hands. Say you work in a random university (uh.. MIT?). Say your fame and fortune has tricked you into thinking you know more about the world than you do in reality. Say you understand computers like no other human being and, “just ‘cuz”, you build your dream machine: a
$100 $188 dollar laptop that takes your breath away. Say you get the brilliant idea to make one billion of those babies just so, like you, a billion children around the world can be blessed and enlightened with your magnificent creation. There is just one problem: where do you get the children from? I know! from developing countries! of course! why didn’t I think of that? They just love having overdeveloped countries tell them how they should live their lives so they too can waste their resources!… heck! they’ll take anything we give them!
A couple of years ago, I read in the IEEE Spectrum magazine that Dave Irvine-Halliday, a University of Calgary Physics professor, had come up with a clever and sustainable idea to provide artificial light to communities that do not have access to this resource. Given my interest in the discourses of development and sustainability, and my background in engineering, I was immediately drawn to the piece. The article went on explaining the evolution process of Dave’s ideas from design to implementation, but what really struck me was the use of the term “overdeveloped world”. This was the first time I had heard that term, but it made so much sense that from that point on, I declared myself Dave’s admirer.
The are a couple of reasons why the use of the term overdeveloped world is important. In order to find solutions to particular social issues we first must be able to identify them. This may seem like an obvious step but, actually, it may be the hardest, and coming up with a term that summarizes the concept already goes a long way. On the other hand, for many years, we have focused on problematizing poverty and underdevelopment as issues that only concern those who have too little. Thus, from the perspective of western capitalism, it is only in the interest of the poor and underdeveloped to overcome their own fateful condition. This type of discourse also places us, the developed and “not-poor”, at a safe distance from the problem by trivializing our politically charged role in the management of poverty. Thus, by using the term overdeveloped world, we shift some of that focus back to us by problematizing affluence as yet another symptom of the same problem. In other words, by using this term, poverty and affluence are defined as two sides of the same coin