A National Plan

I have a confession to make. I’m a snob. At least, I am where technology is concerned. Okay, maybe I’m not the type to cross the street when I see someone with last year’s doohickey du jour. But I do notice when your smart phone looks (or acts) like a brick. I can tell at a glance whether your machine is a cutting edge screamer or the technological equivalent of East Germany’s Brabant automobile, legendary for its poor quality.

I like good engineering, good design and efficient performance. In short, I like things that do their job well, whatever that job may be. I like it so much that I hate to settle for less than the best. Not the biggest, necessarily, nor the most expensive. Just the best.

This focus on tools made me lose sight of a couple of important things: First, while doing things perfectly is a commendable ideal, it happens exactly 0% of the time in the real world. Second, Vanuatu is more, er, ‘real world’ than many other places on Earth.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a leftie when it comes to computing. I like to see as much power in the hands of the people as possible. While it’s nice – and often necessary – to rely on services provided by others, I’ve always believed that DIY is the most empowering way to go. So, when the news began to percolate out that Vanuatu would have truly national mobile phone services, I was interested mostly in how that might help the spread of computers into the islands.

What I didn’t consider is that the mobile might actually become the computer.
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Riding the Tide

For almost a month now, the Vanuatu IT Users Society has been conducting demonstrations of the One Laptop Per Child Project’s XO laptop. These demos have led to numerous conversations about computers, the Internet and access to information. What affect is this going to have on the Vanuatu way of life?

Most people assume that as a geek, I see technology as a Good Thing, one of the miracles of the modern age. That’s not always the case.

The professional life of an ICT professional is fraught with dangers. They’re not personal dangers, of course. There are few safer things to do than plunking down in front of a computer for several hours each day. The risks a geek faces are risks of responsibility. Every choice we make has implications, some of which can be quite serious, especially in places where resources are limited.

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Talking Technology

This week’s column starts with a mea culpa. The column about Microsoft’s meeting with the Ministry of Education raised some eyebrows, and both Ministry employees and individuals wrote in to point out that there were inaccuracies in the reporting. They rightly observed that the author did not attend the meeting in question, and was therefore presenting hearsay evidence. While efforts were made to corroborate the details presented, it is an unfortunate truth that no public record was available. If any of the facts were incorrectly reported, the responsibility for this lies entirely with the author.

In the course of discussions about how to properly correct the record, two points kept recurring, both explicitly and implicitly: So-called ‘geeks’ often focus far too much on technology and not nearly enough on what it’s actually for. Additionally, there’s often a lot of talk – some might say too much talk – based on speculation. Making blithe assumptions can spell disaster for any project, but those with high-tech as a principle ingredient are even more prone to failure because of their inherent complexity.

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