Friday, November 18, 2005

More from the Urner Soap

We had breakfast out before school, then I was summoned to the hospital for a sudden meeting, which turned into a kind of promotion, which likely means more time on the VPN (encrypted because of HIPAA). I explained about my dreams of a bizmo. Apparently I wouldn't be the first to get work done in this way (I suspected as much). Some bizmos contain roving doctors using a lot of skills I don't have, yet sometimes need or could use.

Then I came back to the 'hood for coffee with Derek. We were about to cross Hawthorne under the marquee of the Bagdad, when we were accosted by a charity organization trying to help children in developing countries, the kind of thing Jack Nicholson got involved with when he played that guy in an RV.

I challenged the charity rep to think more in terms of village wireless, so power nesters, protective of their adopted families overseas, could see for themselves how the donations were invested, thanks to web cams, Google Talk or whatever. A prodigy 'deshi kid might chat with salon guests in Chicago on 2-way big plasma, about the meaning of pi, or the prospects for unicode in South Asia.

The charity guy shot back, asking if I'd ever been outside the country and did I have any idea of the realities his charity had to face every day in the field. I put some credentials on the table, but concealed the fact I'd as yet never been to South or Central America.

"Don't you think they should learn to read and write before we give them computers?" he asked. "Learn it all at the same time" I replied.

I talked about that computer scientist in India, who embedded a computer in some wall, no explanations (see Frontline). Street kids played with it and gradually taught themselves tricks (including a few the scientist hadn't learned). Imagine how far they'd go with a little more instruction. Some kids take to high tech like fish to water. The circumstances you're born into shouldn't matter that much.

I didn't give him any money, although I probably should have (more leverage for me). Instead I offered to share a competing vision through an independent operation, to demonstrate the effectiveness of "high tech first" (right up there with safe drinking water in importance).

"High tech" is not synonymous with "inappropriate tech". Villages need access to weather reports (visual data displays) and ecommerce. Guatemalans good at handicrafts could sell them directly on eBay -- or through a mall-based intermediary (movie allusion).

The vision: help these villages turn themselves into cybervillages if that's what they'd like, with village elders (but not just elders) empowered to steer, accelerate, apply brakes. Nextgen youth, born into the new environments, will then lead off in various directions. The village as a whole could use democracy and/or a sense of the meeting (Quaker talk) to find a good way forward. Absentee landlords needn't have overbearing influence.

"So, what will you call your new organization?" the clip board guy asked. What indeed.

Shall we call it CyberCare?

Whatever it's called, we'll work closely with other NGOs, UNICEF, UNESCO and like that, but we'll specialize in wireless access, distance education, high tech solutions (shelters included). We'll give our donors a lot of customized insight into what their donations are doing. We'll also give them opportunities to visit, to join us on Reality TV.