While the word affordance is foreign even to native English speakers, the concept of affordability would seem to be used everyday. (This post is triggered by television news on the opening of Parliament in Canada today, where one of the new MPs was intent on ensuring affordability for Canadians).
As we’re progressing the Systems Changes vocabulary, perhaps affordability is a bridge between affordances (perceived by others in the environment) and capacities (potential behaviours within a whole).
Remarkably, a search on affordances and affordability turns up little on the Internet.
The top significant result from the search is in the context of mobile devices in education, as “How can we balance affordability and affordances in the design of mobile pedagogy?” | Mark Pegrum (U. Western Australia) | 2014 | Unesco Mobile Learning Week. The link to the presentation PDF is now dead.
However, the presentation was a precursor to book, so we can excerpt the idea from that.
– begin excerpt –
From affordability to affordances
In the discourses around digital technologies, we hear a great deal about the affordances of mobile devices, in terms of their social and educational impact and even, beyond this, their economic and political impact. But we must remember that affordability precedes affordances.
In the developed world, it’s the affordability of mobile devices that has encouraged their spread throughout the population. This is why we’re now in a position to discuss the social and educational affordances of smart devices, with their third generation (3G) or fourth generation (4G) connectivity and their smorgasbord of apps. On the other hand, it’s easy to forget that lack of affordability remains an issue, leading to a patchy uptake of the iPods, iPhones and iPads that we hear so much about – along with other similar devices – and introducing equity challenges in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) models.
But it’s in the developing world that affordability matters most. As hardware prices continue to fall, a ‘ “mobile first” development trajectory’ is becoming evident (World Bank, 2012, p.3). Africa has the world’s highest growth rate in mobile phones (Isaacs, 2012a), which are described by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as the ‘mass ICT technology of choice for Africa’ (cited in ibid., p.12). In Latin America, meanwhile, there were an estimated 17 computers per 100 people in 2011, but there was already almost one mobile phone per person (Lugo & Schurmann, 2012). The limited affordability of desktop and laptop computers, along with the limited affordability and coverage of fixed telecommunications infrastructure, means that mobile devices are often the best, or only, option for internet access in the developing world (Deloitte/GSMA, 2012). This is borne out by statistics: although mobile devices accounted for 15% of global net traffic by the end of 2012 (see Figure 1.1), some 58% of web traffic was already mobile-based in Nigeria and Zimbabwe in that year (Deloitte/GSMA, 2012). [p. 6]
But affordability is relative. While an average European spends a little over 1% of their monthly income on mobile communication, an average African spends 17% (STT & Grosskurth, cited in Vosloo, 2012). What’s more, the average African gets a lot less for their money. The low-end phones typical of the developing world, with their limited functional ity and connectivity, offer far fewer of the affordances we hear about in the developed world. By the end of 2011, 90% of the world’s population was covered by 2G networks, but only 45% by 3G networks (ITU, 2012). In 2012, nearly 90% of mobile subscriptions in Africa were still restricted to older 2G or 2.5G networks (Gallen, 2012). We need to remember these limitations in projects that seek to broaden access to educational opportunities. Although it makes sense to plan with an eye to future mobile
expansion in developing regions, our planning must remain grounded in the – long – present. [pp. 6-7]
Of course, even when their affordability reaches a level that allows them to become widespread, new technologies don’t lead to social changes by themselves (the technological determinism fallacy); nor can we say that social changes alone have led to the rise of new technologies (the social determinism fallacy). Rather, society and technology influence each other, a view often called a social shaping perspective (Baym, 2010; Selwyn, 2013; Williams & Edge, 1996). The social context promotes certain lines of technological development and certain uses of technologies; the technological context amplifies some social practices and constrains or undermines others. The obvious uses of new technologies, seen within a larger social framework, are what we might term their affordances – put simply, the purposes to which they seem most easily to lend themselves.
It’s possible to identify certain affordances of mobile technologies which are bound up in the social and educational changes we see happening around us. Leaving aside for the moment the question of affordability, to which we’ll return later, it’s time to take a look at these affordances. [p. 7]
Source: Pegrum, Mark. 2014. “The Mobile Landscape.” In Mobile Learning: Languages, Literacies and Cultures , edited by Mark Pegrum, 1–23. New Language Learning and Teaching Environments. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137309815_1.
– end excerpt –
The idea that “affordability precedes affordances” raises questions as to systems perspectives. We might take the mobile device case as an example. The issue has been less about whether personal computing devices can or cannot be produced; it’s more about whether manufacturers have the capacities to produce those devices at a cost at which buyers can afford to pay the price.
Mobile devices can be seen as an affordance to learners. The affordability of a mobile device rests on the capacity of the manufacturer to produce at sufficiently low cost for a sufficiently large volume that economies of scale work out.