A dollar of trade is worth a hundred times a dollar of aid. It is better to teach a man to fish than to give a man fish.
These are things I have believed in for all of my adult life, influenced by things my father said, things I learnt growing up in India, things I learnt at school and at university amongst the Jesuits.
As a result, many years later, I still think education and enfranchisement are important, whatever the context. If anything, I think they’re even more important than I used to think they were. At some level of abstraction, the only way we can deal with sectarian issues and even with terrorism is via education and enfranchisement. There is growing anecdotal evidence that people who are denied both are more susceptible to joining cults and “movements”.
I think education and enfranchisement are important to each of us as individuals, in our private lives. Important to us in our professional lives, to the firms we work for and work with. Important to us in the towns and cities we live in, in the countries and continents we inhabit.
Education and enfranchisement may not solve all of the world’s problems, but they help.
So I thought I’d start a conversation about these things, with people who could help me learn more about them, who could point me to things I needed to see, and who could say things that let me see things in a different light, with a different perspective.
But how was I to start such a conversation? With a formal education in economics, and a career of over twenty-five years in technology, it made sense for me to concentrate on information and its enabling technologies and the business models used. So that’s what I did. Six months ago.
And that’s why I care about the internet and about connectivity. About intellectual property rights and digital rights management. About opensource software, technologies and platforms. About identity and confidentiality and privacy. About avoiding path pollution and avoiding device and vendor lock-in.
If we get them right, more people will have affordable access to information, more people will be enfranchised to participate in the world.
If we get them wrong, we will waste opportunities we have never had before. Opportunities provided by the continuance of Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law and Gilder’s Law. Opportunities provided by the Ohmae Three, Globalisation, Disintermediation and the Internet. Opportunities provided by the democratisation of innovation and the availability of social software. Opportunities provided by telephony becoming software.
Opportunities for whom? For the disenfranchised of today. Disenfranchised because they’re too young. Or too old. Disenfranchised because they’re not connected or unable to connect or unable to afford to connect. Disenfranchised because they’re unable to use “traditional” computers because of physical constraints. Disenfranchised because they’re always on the move. Because they don’t have access to electrical power. Because English is not their mother tongue. Because they’re too shy. Because they’ve never had the opportunity.
If we do the wrong thing about the internet, about intellectual property and DRM, or about identity and itsÂ related issues, then we will miss the opportunity. But only for a while. Nature abhors a vacuum. The opensource community will find a way around the messes we create, the constraints we put in place, the barriers we raise.
If we do the right thing about all this, then we will have a different way of dealing with information. Because the underlying technology has caught up, information need no longer be trapped by its enabling technologies, information can begin to have the social life it was meant to have, as John Seely Brown has reminded us.
And that’s why I blog about Generation M, about Web 2.0, about Four Pillars, about Syndication, Search, Fulfilment and Conversation.
I wondered about whether I should only blog about all this in the context of the individual, then realised maybe a year ago that all this is true for institutions as well. Education and enfranchisement and Four Pillars are as meaningful in an enterprise context as anywhere else.
The Cluetrain guys called markets conversations, and helped me understand a few things. John Seely Brown and Steven Johnson placed a few other things in context for me about the social life of information and how it flows, how it emerges and moves. Doc and his Lakoff conversation helped me get snowballs.
So blogging it had to be. I don’t read blogs to find out things faster than anyone else; I don’t read blogs to find things to link to and comment on before anyone else; I don’t read blogs because I can’t find any books to read.
I read blogs because they’re participative, they are accessible, they help me learn. I write blogs because I want to participate. In a community. Everyone wants to make a difference, everyone wants to leave a legacy. Blogs are useful in both cases.
Someone I was reading, I’m afraid I can’t remember who it was or where it was, mentioned that conversations can be about events, people or ideas. People-related things tend to be best live and we will always have some form of radio and television, even after we’ve time-shifted it and place-shifted it and mutated it. Event-related things tend to be best in short “factual” bursts and we will always have old media around in some form or the other covering this. Sure, people and event conversations are migrating to the web, but I guess alternative forms will exist.
When it comes to ideas, the blogosphere is hard to beat. What Doc called a snowball is often a sense of revelation for me; I read something and my brain goes Ping, I see it in a different perspective. I experience a different understanding, walk away with a different meaning, all because somebody said something that triggered something else in me. And it helps me learn. When I write something, the comments and feedback and links help me learn as well. And I guess I hope that some readers get that as well from reading what I write.
You may have wondered why I blog about the things I blog about. Now I guess you know. Method or madness? You decide. :-)