Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Andy Carvin writes about the tsunami and the digital divide

DDN Articles - The Tsunami as a Wake-Up Call to Bridging the Digital Divide:

One of the first stories to hit home for me was that of Mr. Vijaykumar, a former volunteer at a telecenter in Nallavadu, India, run by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Vijaykumar, who's now living in Singapore, received word of the tsunami well before anyone in southern India did. He called his family in Nallavadu, then called the telecenter. Another telecenter volunteer living abroad, Mr. Gopu, did the same thing. Immediately the community sprung into action. Using the telecenter's public address system, local volunteers alerted fellow villagers. Among the 500 families in Nallavadu, 150 of their houses were destroyed -- yet no one died, because the telecenter responded to the imminent crisis at a time when no other local or national warning system was in place.

The Nallavadu telecenter is fortunate because it is a part of the Open Knowledge Network (OKN), an initiative that provides communities in developing countries the tools and skills they need to become content producers. In the case of Nallavadu and other local OKN communities in southern India, they're using the initiative to collect weather data and distribute it to fisherman in order to protect them when they're out at see. Because Nallavadu's telecenter volunteers had the information and communication technology (ICT) skills to gather information and get it out by all possible means - including mobile phones and public address systems -- they saved thousands of lives. The telecenter became a lifeline for the entire community.

Andy's observations are always good. This helps to reaffirm the importance of the work that is being done in the area. The digital divide isn't only about a computer in a house (the way we often think of it in this country). It can also be about public safety.

Bonus link: Tsunami-info.org. Also started by Andy. It pulls together various RSS feeds with tsunami- and help-related information. It was fascinating to watch Andy think of and implement this, very quickly, via his posts on the digital divide listserv.

(in: digital_divide, tsunami, andy_carvin)