The Man Who Planted Trees

From a story by Jean Giono pointed to by Atanu Dey: “For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.”

This inspirational story shows what a difference one person can make. Each of us should undertake to do something – small, big, doesn’t matter – which will make a positive difference to the world around us for the future generations.

ICT for Indian Masses

Dataquest has two stories on the various ICT initiatives going on in India to bridge the digital divide. The first of these discusses why the various initiatives have failed, while the second talks about telecentres. Here is what it suggests could work:

– Encourage localization of applications: increased demand will drive industry towards economies of scale
– Low income doesnt mean low quality expectations
– Devise a fresh marketing and business strategy. Replicating a successful overseas initiative may not work.
– Think big, but it is crucial for a solution that has succeeded small, to be scalable in increments.
– Collaborating with other companies who have developed technologies could result in shortening time to market
– A lower price does not mean that the solution is affordable. A user will buy it only if he sees immediate RoI
– The solution may run on next generation technology, but complexity in usage can be a turnoff
– The solution needs to be economically sustainable

I am quoted in the stories:

“There are plenty of small-scale success stories. In fact, on a small scale, we can get anything to work. Whats missing is the ability to think of solutions that can be replicated across India between two elections (five years), rather than two generations (25 years),” says Rajesh Jain.

Rajesh Jain is among the young visionaries in the IT arena who strongly feels that the technology menu for rural contexts needs to be tailored differently from mainstream urban solutions. He further opines that the need of the hour is for a completely fresh and bottom-up analysis of the rural markets, keeping in mind the emergence of “cold technologies”technologies, which have neutral revenue or even anti-revenue attributes.

What the Internet is Good For

Steve Lohr writes in the NYTimes:

Mr. Diller and others have come to realize that two things succeed commercially on the World Wide Web: searching (like Google and Yahoo) and shopping (like Amazon.com and eBay).

The Internet is a low-cost communications technology. And a shopping site like Amazon.com is, in essence, a big database lashed to the Internet. There is, to be sure, plenty of marketing and technical innovation involved. But searching databases and processing transactions computers have been doing that for decades.

What has not happened is the birth of a new media. Writes Lohr: “The promised wonders of new media may yet arrive. In the meantime, the Internet has changed daily life in ways most people could not have imagined in 1994. People manage their lives and relationships via e-mail and instant messaging, and second-graders are skilled Google searchers.”

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Information Overload

The problem of information overload has existed for long. Even as Vannevar Bush refers to it in his essay on the Memex, all modern technology of today still does not have adequate solutions to the problem. In fact, if anything the situation in the past decade has got worse.

Compare life a decade ago to now. We have probably seen at least a 10x increase in much of what we are doing (or should be doing). Email, instant messaging and cellphones (with SMS) have made us more reachable, increasing the circle of people who can reach us anytime, anywhere. Email, especially at the workspace, has made it easier for us to be in the loop on many more things increasing the ongoing threads that we are aware of or are involved in dramatically.

Decision-making time as reduced since everything needs to be in real-time after all, if one get access to information in real-time, how can decisions take longer! Thanks to the Web, the information available to us is greater than before. Today, no website is inaccessible, no book is more a few clicks away, no person is unreachable.

What has not changed is time the number of hours in a day is a universal, perpetual constant. What has also not changed much is our own cognitive ability we still need time to process information. What has increased is the number of context switches we need to make in a day so many different tasks seek to grab our attention; what has not decreased is the time that each such switch takes. Technology may follow Moores Law; Humans dont. We are in a world which is not just accelerating, but even the rate of acceleration seems increasing.

The basic productivity tools we have in front of us are two one is our human brain, and the other is the personal computer. For much of our lives, it was the first tool that we relied on. The second tool the PC may have grown by leaps and bounds in what we can do, but we still use a small fraction of its power. There have been other developments around us storage costs have fallen, bandwidth has become cheaper and more ubiquitous. Search engines have complemented our memory by being able to find anything if it is out there.

Complexity in the world that we see around us will not decrease. What needs to change is how we fit ourselves in this and get a greater control on activities that we do. The challenge before us, is therefore, to see how we can use recent technology developments to augment our memory, so that we are able to amplify our ability to process information manifold. The building blocks are at hand to bring to life the vision of the Memex that Vannevar Bush outlined more than half-a-century ago.

Tomorrow: Memex Objectives

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