Another dropped Sunday issue means no articles to post this week. And I haven’t been doing much in the way of photography these past couple weeks. So instead I’ll just point you to this fascinating bit about “Bangladeshi Info-Ladies” who travel around rural Bangladesh with netbooks and GSM advising people on a variety of agricultural, domestic, and health problems. The organization has a call center in Dhaka with experts on hand to diagnose skin diseases and the like from cameraphone photos. It sounds like a really sophisticated setup.
This…movement, apart from being adorably quirky, is really a testament to the transformative power of information and Internet access. For those of you who heard my enthusiastic gushing about the One Laptop Per Child project two or three years ago, this is the kind of thing I was really hoping for. OLPC itself never really worked out at the scale and pace that I hoped it would, but the rise of netbooks as a major commercial enterprise is bringing a lot of life-improving knowledge to the developing world. We often think that tribal farmers are really in touch with the land, or even that they know ancient agricultural wisdom lost on the practitioners of cruel, chemical agribusiness, but the truth is that science-based practices work and in a place as constantly ruined as Bangladesh they can make a big difference.
Actually, at one point I had a mad scheme of lacing Africa with franchised “info-runners” who could help bandwidth penetrate into remote areas on foot. As they used to say on the Internet, “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.” Though in this case it would have been a netbook carried on a bicycle trundling down a dirt road. And let’s not forget what would have been the most iconic image, a necklace of thumbdrives stuffed with Powerful, Transformative data. Of course, such a project would have a very limited time window when it could be implemented effectively and still be useful. After all, all those remote areas are going to get G3 coverage sooner rather than later, and webphones won’t be too far out of reach even for the so called “dirt poor.”
I really dig that these women have put the misogynistic religious establishment on its heels. Sending an army of female, gadget-empowered millenials around to scare abusive husbands straight “seems good” (to use MtG slang) in a country as crippled by patriarchy as Bangladesh. The fact that these girls provide an increasingly essential service to the men as well should help minimize the number of them that get murdered/raped/kidnapped/buried alive or whatever else they do to uppity women round those parts. (I guess burying girls alive is more of a Pakistani thing than Bangladeshi.)
Anyways, this comes via Bruce Sterling’s http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/, who comments that “Martian tripods landing would probably be less transformative.”