Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ancient Technologies, Modern Africa

The great thing about the internet is how thought progresses along hyperlinked trails. A few weeks ago, I painstakingly transcribed and scanned some early 20th century plans for a hydrocarbon-burning 'magic lantern' (or primitive slide projector). Days pass, my little page is linked at a few popular websites, and today I start to see incoming links from "Friends of African Village Libraries", a blog of a nonprofit working towards providing books for small African settlements. It's clear the idea didn't come from me directly, but the info I provided helped build evidence to back up the concept that basic multimedia systems can be provided for literary education, without significant power consumption, rather than a high-tech solution that requires electricity. It reminds me of the candle-powered radio I read about in the book Design for the Real World, intended for rural third-world regions. The radio required little to no maintenance, could be powered by anything that burned, and could be made from simple components salvaged from available materials (and a few key provided components, of course). Viewing a culture for its capabilities and familiarities may be more successful than to throw technology at it; there's a limit to what technology can accomplish without causing societal changes to make it work.

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