[Originally published in the Vanuatu Independent newspaper.]
I don’t usually like to advocate for particular products or technologies. There’s no shame whatsoever in having an opinion and – in this space – it’s my job. But there’s a difference between arguing for a particular approach to something and arguing for a particular thing.
It’s time to make an exception.
The Linux operating system has a well-earned reputation as the software of choice for uber-hackers and propellor-heads the world over. That’s because it is. It runs the majority of the world’s servers right now, from giant supercomputing clusters to Google to the Dow Jones stock exchange.
So what, exactly, is this Linux thing? At its core, it’s a suite of very basic utilities that allow a computer to run. Because it’s so easy to configure and customise, it runs on everything from supercomputers to your wireless router. Google’s new Android mobile phones are built on it, as are many of Nokia’s.
Nearly two decades after it took its first faltering steps, I can say with some assurance that Linux is good enough, easy enough and – this is important – safe enough for you to pick it up and use it without really breaking a sweat.
[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]
“Being rich is having money. Being wealthy is having time.”
Vanuatu is rich in time, if little else. Everywhere you look, you’ll see people loitering, chatting, sitting together, wiling away the hours.
Doug Patterson’s Kranke Kona cartoon contrasts the Vanuatu way with the outside world’s hurry-up approach to life brilliantly: Two amiable men, sitting under the coconut tree, see an expat scurrying by, briefcase in hand, mobile phone pressed to his ear. They ask him why he’s in such a rush. He replies that if he works without respite every day, some day he’ll be able to slow down and enjoy life.
I sympathise more with the two brothers under the tree than I do with the expat. But the real humour lies in the juxtaposition. As enamoured as we all are with having the time to do things well, time is, nonetheless, a finite resource. And while it’s easy to say that time is money, we need to ensure that we don’t focus too much on its price and not enough on its value.
I’ve been arguing for the last few weeks that what’s needed most for Vanuatu is to invest significant time and effort into the creation of a new crop of technically savvy individuals who can help Vanuatu bridge the growing gap between life in the information age and life as we’ve always known it in the islands.
There’s a pressing need for people to assist with this transition. The barriers have begun to fall that once allowed life in the village to remain consistent, with change seeping in slowly and in tiny doses. Very soon, most everyone in Vanuatu will have access to mobile telephony. We’re already hearing stories about Tannese in Middle Bush bringing their mobile to the garden with them, just in case someone wants to reach them.
Only weeks ago, nobody really got fussed about waiting days or even weeks to hear a bit of news. But now that we can actually get it, we want information immediately. It’s a universal human trait to want to keep caught up on the latest. In the past people here have been content to let information and gossip arrive at its own pace, confident at least that nobody was getting the jump on anyone else. But now, someone who owns a mobile phone holds a distinct advantage over those without. In this culture – and most others – knowledge is power, and in Vanuatu, a new arms race has begun.