Protecting our Children

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Note: Because of public demand for a printable version of this column, here’s a PDF version of this week’s column.

This week, I’m going to give over much of my column space so that other voices can be heard.

Over the last two weeks or so, there’s been an animated and quite fascinating discussion on the VIGNET technical mailing list. VIGNET is a mailing list service provided by the Vanuatu IT Users Society (VITUS) in order to contribute to a public dialogue about all things to do with technology. With over 220 subscribers, it represents a significant number of people working in IT in Vanuatu.

Following the roll-out of Digicel’s GPRS mobile Internet service, concerns have been raised about children and youth in Vanuatu having access to unsuitable content, especially pornography, through their mobile phones.

With nearly 100 messages from dozens of different contributors, the discussion was illuminating, intelligent and remarkably respectful, especially given the delicacy of the topic. What follows is a small but representative sampling….

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Don't Plan On It

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Recently, I’ve come across references to a phenomenon some expats have wryly termed the ‘V’ factor. Apparently there is some magic variable Vanuatu inserts into every equation that reduces our ability to calculate a sensible output to zero.

As emblematic phrases go, the ‘V’ factor ranks somewhere between Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and those inane office posters warning you that ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.

Joseph Heller penned his famous novel in an attempt to characterise the crushing, often deadly banality of bureaucratic systems. His initially humourous tone peels away layer by layer until death, disappearance and the destruction of innocence leave the surviving characters with few illusions about humanity’s true nature.

Compared to this tour de force of gallows humour, a silly-looking poster tacked onto a corkboard seems innocuous, to say the least, little more than an ineffectual, protesting squeak from a mouse in a maze.

The ‘V’ factor isn’t so harmless. Rather than explain (Catch 22-style) Vanuatu’s unique environment, it substitutes dismissive hand-waving (often accompanied by another beer) for any serious desire to adapt to the reality of the situation. In essence, it’s a quick and easy way of exculpating oneself, of refusing to be implicated in the petty, small-world inefficiencies that define Vanuatu.

The ‘V’ factor is the final excuse of someone who wants into the show, but doesn’t want to pay for the ticket.

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[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Not My Problem.

There is a time-honoured tradition here in Vanuatu, requiring that nobody get too fussed over anything. It requires as well that one think twice about the inevitable repercussions before taking ownership of anything. Whether it’s for an item or an idea, a report or a plan, taking responsibility is nearly always a liability.

There are good reasons for all this, to be sure. The only way for a group to survive in a small village – on an island, to boot – is to get along. Learning to keep one’s head down, even when silence comes at a price, ensures harmony. Being quick to forgive weakness and slow to confront ineptitude has become one of the hallmarks of Vanuatu society.

But this is the single biggest impediment facing IT service delivery in Vanuatu today.

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Black Smoke and Storm Clouds

Every weekday morning, in every street in Port Vila, we see a steady stream of people walking into town. On the road beside them, innumerable buses and cars drive by, belching black smoke into their faces. Just as regularly, we see complaints in the local media about this smoke. But nothing ever gets done about it.

Police and inspection officials don’t enforce the laws, and the drivers don’t make any real effort to clean up their act. Everybody knows they should. Everybody knows that this pollution causes health problems. Even the simplest metrics, like the dirt it leaves on our clothing, on our skin and under our nails, makes it impossible to deny that there’s a problem. And yet we do nothing.

Why? The answer is simple….

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