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Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans “consolidate the January 8 revolution” in landmark elections

Pardon for my dredging up the cliché about how “the people have spoken.”

As Sri Lanka sees the results of a peaceful general election today, the real revolution has been in the making for a few years.

We now take for granted that most journalists provide results and news in real-time. Even providing clarity today, amid the euphoria, and contradictory ‘reports’.

We aren’t surprised anymore that the Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs, Harsha de Silva uses his Twitter handle, as if he was texting you personally (and bilingually, too).  He’s not alone in this digital democracy of 20.8 million people.

One of the 5 trends in Sri Lanka, as outlined by Anna Bruce-Lockhart at the World Economic Forumis the gains in digitization. (The Full report is here.)

I welcome the maturity of an informed digital democracy in our Chat Republic.

 

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Balloons could add new flavors to the ‘Cloud’ and Digital Democracy

Most of you know how I dislike the word ‘cloud’ as a catchall for anything accessed online. So how about getting used to balloons? As in Google’sProject Loon that has been in the works for some two years, and now is supposed to be set to launch in Sri Lanka.

It’s a crazy, heady idea. Sri Lanka will be the first country to get ‘universal Internet access’ as TechCrunch put it.

I just got back from Sri Lanka, and did an extensive train and road trip with the family. I experienced first hand what connectivity is –and is not. The new, fast highways are obviously connecting more people to more opportunities. The Telcos are providing easy-to-get (via a scratch card) low-cost bandwidth for smart devices. There is growing free Wi-Fi presence in towns as diverse as Galle, Anuradhapura, Kandy and some places in Jaffna; even on a train we took to the hill country! Access does get spotty and sluggish at times, but the appetite for connectivity is growing in leaps and bounds.

And now balloons!

Here’s why I welcome this. Not for the obvious reasons, such as giving everyone including tuk-tuk drivers or election monitors the ability to tweet or upload pictures – which could be useful in and of itself.

Education: First sorely needed bandwidth to homes, schools and offices will change the game. I was at one outstation school, and the science teachers had to use a dongle to get online. ‘Universal access’ for schools would change the dimension of how learning takes place beyond the Google search. Young people could be empowered to create content and not just consume it. It’s about time schools got a better deal when it comes to connectivity. Why haven’t the telcos given schools a better deal? What will they do now?

Political participation. Sri Lanka has demonstrated that despite the dismal examples of governance, that democracy and citizen participation works. ICTA reported recently that “Sri Lanka has shot up to 74th position in the United Nations E-Government Survey of 2014, after climbing 41 places since 2012.” Nalaka Gunewardene goes into rich detail about how Digital Democracy is at work. Beyond elections, this will affect transparency and accountability, when everyone has an uplink, a camera and a voice.

There are obviously several more examples, which some of you might like to add. Please do!

 

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What social media was like five years ago

I came across these pictures taken during a series of webinars on social media I conducted in late 2010, and it made me realize how far we have come. Or what we have left behind.

The series was called Passport to Digital Citizenship.

I have met some of these ‘students’ who have subsequently gone on to do amazing work in the digital space in Sri Lanka.

But now that I teach a different age and demographic of students, it is interesting to see how some major concerns of digital citizenship, have been over-ridden by new ones. Then there was no WhatsApp, and Instagram or Snapchat to think about. At that time, it was almost inconceivable that these new digital channels would practically revise the political spectrum in Sri Lanka – as Nalaka Gunewardene has well documented.

Webinar students - Passport to Digital Citizenship 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the experience all of you who attended.

What are the most important tools you use in your work today? More importantly what are your biggest challenges?  Privacy? Information overload? Earning trust? PR?

 

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Uncle Ben

It’s spring break for me. I’m taking time out here to talk about someone who defies everything we tend to believe about the Internet as a communications tool, and how social networks have become the quintessential (essential?) glue.

Uncle Ben just turned 78 today. You would not have seen it pop up on LinkedIn, you won’t see glowing wishes and purple prose about him on Facebook, WhatsApp, or for that matter an email thread. And yet I’m willing to bet that Uncle Ben has more friends than you. Lower-case friends, I mean.

People call on him every day to talk to him (not simply to ‘Like’ him); those who stop by his apartment don’t tale selfies with him because deep down they realize that a few hours spent together is all about him, not ‘all about me.’

When his sugar level goes up the whole world doesn’t know about it. When he’s spending a few weeks harvesting a bumper crop of beans in Bandarawela (his second home that he has freely opened out to anyone in the extended family) you don’t see close-ups of the pods in time-release photos. (Indeed they would make great Vine videos!) AS you may guess, Uncle Ben does not crave or entertain self-promotion. He’s a single man with dozens of nephews and nieces, and grand-nieces and grand nephews, and hundreds and hundreds of fans – down the street, at the market, the three-wheel taxi drivers, at the tennis clubs… I could go on.

I once attempted to show him how to use text messaging (stupid me: I thought, since most of us nephews and nieces would love to stay in touch, he would dig this). He gave up. But he loves chatting – the authentic kind of chat –and always gives us a call whether we are 30 miles away of 10,000.

As some of you know, I often write about curious or marvelous technology trends, and big shifts in how people communicate, collaborate or become more productive. Today, I am so glad Uncle Ben never reads my column, or never does any of these things. He’s the happiest guy I know, who lives entirely offline.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Ben!

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Sri Lanka

 

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SMS as a crowd-sourcing channel for… farmers

Remember when Short Codes were all the rage? That was a few decades (in Internet years, that is) before QR codes walked into the bar and stole the limelight.

I’m still a big fan of SMS, even though I use QR Codes for all manner of things. More on this later.)

We in the West are all enamored when we hear how a majority of the world is now mobile. 91 Percent of Americans own mobile phones, according to a Pew report in May.

When I was visiting Sri Lanka I ran into some interesting uses of Information-Communication Tech, I touched on ICT in a passing way in Chat Republic, only because I was making the case that social media users need to understand that the new, new thing they stumble upon is based on some very old concepts –crowd-sourcing being one of these.

I met the folks at Sri Lanka’s Information Communication Technology Agency, and they talked about a lesser-known project that enabled rural villages to use of ‘short codes’ via mobile phones to provide what amounted to SMS-enabled commodity trading.

Yes you read that right: Commodity trading for farmers for farmers!

It worked like this: A farmer sends an SMS to a knowledge hub using a particular short code, providing details of what he has to sell. Buyers or whole-sellers also subscribe to the service, and the portal matches the buyer and seller. The mobile device is just the tool that enables that digital hand-shake between these two groups of people.

They may never meet, but have learned to trust each other because of a secure network, and their comfort level with short codes.

Trust is a rare commodity in the social media space we inhabit. There are workshops and books on building trust, and I’ve read a few. But in practice, the ease of use, and the ability to fake it on social media is causing a backlash. We have become more skeptical of those who push links at us. Our digital handshakes, though instantaneous, and seamless are fraught with problems.

We may be all Web 2.0 but we tend to forget the basic tenets of being Human 1.0. Just ask those farmers who are using basically 1.0 tools.

Note: The image, above, is from a similar project in Bangladesh.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Chat Republic, Sri Lanka

 

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Google Street View in Sri Lanka, timely -as the ‘walls’ come down

I just wrote a bit of a cynical piece about Google Glass, but, as you may know, there is no shortage of parodies about this new, much-talked about product that will help people ‘augment’ the real world.

But my beef is not with Google, per se. It’s those whom I like to call ‘Shiny New OBject Syndrome’ types. You know, S-N-O-B-S :-)

The point being, I question if we really need everything reduced to data, or meta data –basically data about data. Do we need an appendage that turns our analog lives that are inherently data-rich in human connections, just to bathe in digital?

In one of my presentations (when asked about Big Data in a Web 2.0 era) I referred to a person who told me how he was befriended on LinkedIn by an old school buddy. Great, he thought, and clicked the button! Then he bumped into the chap a day later, and the ‘friend’ ignored him. In other words, flesh-and-blood alums are so boring, huh? The data-based connection was what the person was after.

Oddly enough, I am planning an upcoming trip, and enjoying the data Google delivers – via Street View. It’s truly amazing how one company can basically index the world as we pass through it. One country at a time. So far Google, which began capturing Street Views in 2007, has 50 countries and counting. Included are Hong Kong, Thailand, Romania, Poland…

Sri Lanka will be soon in this group – reliable sources tell me. I could see why the tourism and leisure industry would want this. For businesses too. Imagine being able to drive through a bridge, walk up the steps of a temple, check out the neighborhood in an area you plan to set up a company etc..

Inviting this kind of visibility, also trains citizens to expect greater transparency in surrounding areas. The new data we will have access to would (and should) inform a nation’s business leaders and public officials to plan for providing data beyond the ‘Street’ level.  We should be able to drive by, virtually, and pick up data, and meta-data: forms, policy papers, constitutional amendments, meeting notes, speeches, parliament bills and voting patterns etc. Will these come? Well, look at it this way. In Colombo, the government has been strident in tearing down the physical walls around public places. Cynics see this is as part of the post-war beautification strategy. But even as we will be able to peer into the windows of an un-walled town hall or government institution, (while Google,simultaneously, begins to provide virtual views) the expectation will be for greater access.

It’s an experiment that many will be watching. (No expensive Glasses required)

 
 

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‘Guru’ – spoiler alert

I cringe every time I run into the word ‘guru,’  especially when it is used as a generic term foro someone who expounds on any topic. Just like the term ‘master class’ and ‘best of breed’ the word means nothing.

I spotted the word in an article describing my input at one of the upcoming events I am attending, so I want to get this out of my system: I am a part-time writer, full-time teacher, observer of odd trends, trouble-maker, critique, and occasional ‘help desk’ sherpa (at least in my day job) when it comes to the infuriating things we have to do with computers. However, that does not make me a guru. Please!

FOR THE RECORD, I ignore gurus. I avoid them like the swine flu. I carry a hand sanitizer to clean up every time I am introduced to someone who calls him or herself one. Social media experts/gurus/ninjas are a dime a dozen. Advertising Age recently ran a piece about there being some 181, 000 of these types.

The entry for the word guru on Wikipedia (which usually excels in dehydrated language) says it is “used to cover anyone who acquires followers, especially by exploiting their naiveté, due to the inflationary use of the term.”

There’s a deeper discussion of the term here, by author, B.R. Sharma. He says that “the absence of a guru, though, does not preclude learning and wisdom.” The corollary to which, I suppose, is: “the presence of a guru is no guarantee of understanding.”

Ok, I lied about the hand sanitizer part. But you get the point.

 
 
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