My story is real, except for the Includer,
which may yet some day be real as well. The Includer is a device for
Africans or anybody to read and write emails and other texts stored on
their USB flash drives. Once a week they might walk the three miles or
so to their Internet cafe to upload their emails and download more.
The Includer is the hero of our every episode. I am simply the blogger for the Includer. I am real… so what. Yet I suppose that you matter. I will draw my characters and I will draw you in with them.
Samwel Kongere lives on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, in Kenya. He walks three miles, crossing a sandbar,
to Mbita Point, on the mainland. In 2005, he used to get online at the
butterfly research station. That’s what I call “marginal Internet
access”, which is any kind of limitation on your life online. I can
imagine, they could only let him hang around so many hours of the day.
Thank you, butterfly researchers, for sharing your access.
Many Africans pay $1 per hour at the Internet cafe. I am heartened that they participate at Minciu Sodas, my online laboratory for independent thinkers. We respond. They do very well.
Within a year or two, with the help of one person or another, they may
get a computer, a video camera, paid work, emergency assistance, and
even fly to a conference in Africa or Europe.
Last spring, I made a list of our participants’ endeavors. What might we “work for free” on as I looked for “work for pay”? Thank you to Sasha Mrkailo,
our virtual assistant in Serbia, for helping me. Of the one hundred
endeavors, about one-third had to do with making the best of the
Internet access we have. Joy Tang of One Village Foundation
gave us our first such endeavor in 2003, a wonderfully bold vision of
Africa and Silicon Valley responding to the AIDS catastrophe with unity centers for village rebirth. That year I took to heart George Soros’s Open Society Insitute’s call for proposals to create software for NGOs. Thanks to Ian Bruk of Canada, I dedicated three months to propose a social networking kit for activists with marginal Internet access. I went to the island of Vis, Croatia, for a related summer camp, where I was kicked off the island for being too intimidating. My proposal was one of the first to be rejected.
Last August, as I walked the post-Soviet streets of Vilnius,
Lithuania, I wondered, what could I do differently so that I had a
chance of making money and repaying my debts? There are a billion
people who can walk to the Internet. It’s a good idea to optimize
software so they could spend fewer hours at Internet cafes and more
hours at offline computers. But the idea was too abstract to explain to
funders. They couldn’t wrap their minds around it. For that reason
alone, I thought to propose a device, a Flash Drive Editor, for reading
and writing the contents on one’s USB flash drive. As I checked out of
the supermarket and saw the Wincor-Nixdorf cash register’s 5” black and white customer display, I thought, Wow! that’s all we need.
Might the Flash Drive Editor advance all of our endeavors? I thought
aloud about each one. Why achieve this or that? Each purpose leads to
another. I drew a diagram of all our purposes.
Ultimately, they all have us “reach out to the hard to reach”, which I
suppose is God’s purpose. That’s why I named our device the Includer.
Our African participants greatly encouraged me that we were on the right track. Yet the confirmation came from Ricardo, a UK engineer who I found through his Sneakernet page at the OLPC wiki. He’s a real hero of our Includer. He has written hundreds of creatively technical pages at our wiki. He’s helped dozens of Africans get computers and get online. By this time, Samwel was leading a center with 15 computers and training 3,000 women in ICT and entrepreneurship.
Ricardo and Samwel are making leaps and bounds in bringing Internet to
the region. Ricardo is a pseudonym and I have never met him, but he is
real enough for me.
Samwel just returned from one month in Italy, his first trip to Europe, thanks to Maria Agnese Giraudo, Kennedy Owino and the Nafsi Afrika Acrobats. I don’t know now if our paths diverge. I want to organize the kingdom of heaven,
a culture for independent thinkers, where we work openly to create the
world we want. I want a world where people think deeply on their own,
but share their work-in-progress at every opportunity. I think alone. I
have a lab for that! I want others to think alone, I want to listen to
them, I want to think along. Do we have enough for a culture? Do we
have enough for the Includer?
Will you be our hero? Will you think along? Live with us, the poor
in spirit. Reach out with us! Are you hard to reach? Are you with me?
Or against me?