Hold on ...let's think LO11584

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
28 Dec 96 04:18:02 EST

Replying to LO11559 --

Diana Mordock wrote a thought-provoking message on technology (and on
culture) that I enjoyed and agreed with a great deal. It has stuck with
me and bounced around in my head more than any other single message for
the last several days. It has been a large inspiration for some thoughts
that I would not have otherwise had.

I actually feel more optimistic than Diana does about technology, but I
think she is right that there will always be some and perhaps many who
cannot benefit to the same extent as others. But it is interesting to
note that an Internet node and associated technology including cell phone,
can be set up far, far more cheaply already today, than can a fully
functioning library, anywhere in the third world. This access may be good
or bad as Diana points out, but quite literally, any African, Mexican,
Indian, Chinese village can tap into the Internet today and have access to
the same information as a person who lives in, say, Paris.

I once lived for several years in Africa, and spent a lot of time in the
rain forest. Customarily, at night I would stay in whatever village was
available where I was working. Not infrequently, there were no villages
at hand, and a night on the ground was in order. One time, just as sunset
was falling, and I was preparing for such a night on the ground, I
totally, totally stumbled into a small village who, graciously put me up
for the night. This village had never had a white visitor before, so I
was quite the center of attention for perhaps 100+ children. As the
evening wore on, I learned that their own father was a far more
interesting person.

This person had been conscripted by the French (former French colony), and
taken to fight in the war in Europe in 1939. He was captured by the
Germans very quickly, and spent the war in a POW camp. He was freed by
Americans at the end of the war, whereupon he walked to Southern France,
got on a ship, and went to Abidjan, the largest nearby city to where he
wanted to live. Getting off the ship, he walked home -- some 500 miles.
Being a sensible person, his experience of WW II convinced him he had no
further need for the so-called civilized world, so he moved some 30-40
miles into the deep woods to live, and married several wives, as was
common in that part of Africa. Since that time -- approximately 35 years
when I met him -- he had never walked back to the nearest road, and had no
direct experience of a typical city in his home country.

So what's the point? Well, his sons had gotten together and bought him a
battery TV, and as a consequence, he had far more access to the rest of
the world than he did to towns only 30 miles away. Technology opened him
up to the world, it did not close him down. In fact, since everyone in
the village watched TV together, it exposed them all to the rest of the
world in ways that would not -- in the absence of technology -- havve been

I can hear many people who read this bemoaning the impact of TV on this
'natural' family, but my point is, contrary to most conventional wisdom,
technology increases accessibility to knowledge, it generally does not
decrease it.

I travel a fair amount, and since that time I have seen cell phones in
extraordinarily remote areas of China, TV 'dishes' in a village of cinder
blocks in Mexico, and remarkably, Internet availability in one or two
small, remote villages with no other outside access except a dirt road.
These are signs, again, of increased, not decreased access to information.
In fact, China is experiencing an explosion of telephone access that would
not have been available for at least another 20 years if we still had to
rely on the old 'wire' technology. My grandmother lived in a remote area
in Idaho, and she finally got a phone in 1968. Electricity in 1955. Now,
less than 30 years later, phones are literally everywhere, like it or not.
This is actually a quantum leap in access to information.

On a separate but related thought, it is a peculiarly American notion that
evey individual should have 'their own' of anything, including Internet
access. In most of the world, the notion of a village sharing access to a
TV or the Internet is very common. So the cost, when put in the context
of a village instead of an individual, is very reachable right now
throughout much of the world. It is still prohibitive in areas where
shared access is not likely, such as here. Perhaps Americans need to get
over the notion of individual ownership.

Diana also expressed concern about the loss of culture in each country.
This -- not loss, but rather, homogenization -- is an outcome of
technology, and is a direct consequence of increased access to
information. MacDonald's is an American invention, but it is more than
anything else an example of successful technology. It is TQ in action
that allows one to eat the same quality hamburger and fries in London,
Kansas, and Tokyo. She raises the question indirectly of whether this
access is good or not. Being an optimist myself, I think it is good.
Another way to approach this issue, though, is to recognize that it is
inevitable, so we had best figure out how to make the best of it.

This homogenization of cultures has been going on forever, but the pace is
clearly increasing. The good news about local cultures is, as Diana
notes, the richness of music, art, costume, and so forth. The bad news,
of course, is the distrust that exists between groups of differing
cultures. A difficult problem, but perhaps homogenization to some extent
will help people learn to understand their neighbors better than they do
now. Cultural and ethnic differences in Africa were and are such that
distrust and prejudice began with a village three miles down the road.

But Africa had already been over-run by the Islamic invasions, and then by
the Europeans, and while both of these 'new' cultures were visible, the
underlying African cultures still shone through. One of my friends had a
saying, that 50% of the people were Moslem, 50% were Christian, and 100%
were Animist. I have seen the same thing in Guatemala where Catholic
Indians sacrificed a chicken on the steps of the Catholic Church on Sunday
morning. Now that is a cross-cultural image worth savoring.

Having been a back-to-the-earth person in one phase of my life in Africa,
I could relate to Diana's purchase of a manual typewriter. As an
individual I could get along without electricity in my home, but not in my
life. The ribbon, for example, to my manual typewriter, required power to
create, so ultimately I could never escape dependence on electricity.
There was an article in today's paper about the French eschewing e-mail
for the pleasures of writing. But even felt-tipped pens are what, 40
years old? Not exactly old technology. The ubiquitous BIC made writing
available to every African, and the BIC is probably less than 50 years
old. Isn't technology wonderful?


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc 76234,3636@compuserve.com

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>