Warning: This rather long post was written & posted yesterday under the influence of strong Kenyan coffee, and reveals the ADD nature of the writer’s brain (with a tendency to repeat himself.) Some syntax errors and typos have been fixed since it was originally published. Subsequent posting may further help with its comprehensibility.
I’m back in my flat in Nairobi. Time seems to be accelerating – and not just because of the great coffee I consumed @ Java House early today (although the buzz lingers). We leave town in five nights. Five more mornings of atonal awakenings caused by the 5 AM prayer-calling Imam down the street. (I’ve considered raising funds to pay for singing lessons.) It’s too soon. We are not ready to leave Nairobi (but Imbi and I miss our kids too much – would that they be arriving Friday night @ Jomo Kenyatta Airport, rather than us boarding a BA flight that begins our thirty-hour trip home to Toronto).
I wish I could make complete sense of all the things that race through my mind today.
I write this post from one of the most beautiful nations in the world. A nation where much positive change has taken place since I first came in 2000. I’ve mentioned some of those changes in earlier posts. Yet this is also a nation still being crippled by corruption, greed, institutionalized-stupidity and the worst health crisis this globe has ever seen – the AIDS pandemic. You ask, "What else is new?" You’ve heard this all before. In fact, you are probably inured to the issue – filing it away in the "impossible to fix" corner of your brain. But bear with me for a few more paragraphs, please.
Let me point out one example of the institutionalized-stupidity as it relates to the AIDS pandemic. A friend of ours is attempting to formalize the adoption of an abandoned child of an AIDS-bearing mother. Our friend is from the West. This friend has been working in Kenya since the eighties and has no plans to leave – although the friend is a foreign citizen. (I’m being intentionally vague about their identity.) There is a law on the books in Kenya that denies foreigners the ability to adopt Kenyan children – probably originally written to protect local children from being "harvested" by foreigners willing to pay big money for adoptions. It would be a buyers market in Kenya today. There are an estimated 1.8 million AIDS orphans in this country alone.
Yet our friend is being ridiculously hassled by the immigration judge. Like some abused circus animal, they are being asked to jump through nearly impossible hoops in order to raise this child in a loving, protective and Kenya-postive environment. Oddly enough, this same judge had no problem allowing a European couple to adopt and remove another child from Kenya the previous week. It would be an easy enough assumption to wonder whether corruption was involved in that case, as none of the standards our friend has been asked to live up to were enforced in that situation.
What does this have to do with the Generous Web? Is it just in the Kenya-coffee-caffeinated synapses of my brain that I see the ability of the Generous Web to impact this situation on a macro scale. Let me switch to a wide angle lens for a moment – and point that lens north and west.
All of us have heard the cliché, "give a person a fish and they eat for a day; teach them to fish and they’ll eat forever." It’s not completely true. I’m one generation removed from people who made their living on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. They know well how to fish – so well that they and others have reduced the fish stocks to a level from which they may never recover. Had they had the knowledge of the truth of what was being done to the ecosystem by their overfishing (and trust me, Newfoundlanders were not the worst offenders in this) I believe they would have responded appropriately.
The key is the knowledge of the truth. And this to me is part of the power of the Generous Web. The ability to disseminate the knowledge of the truth quickly and efficiently. To discuss, debate, change, correct and even find solutions to the problems revealed by the knowledge of the truth.
The Generous Web is self-correcting – Wikipedia being one of its best examples. We may only have a small portion of the truth to begin with – or even a lie masquerading as the truth. Cluetrained-conversations reveal what is real and what is not. The ever expanding, ever evolving network shining light into areas intentionally hidden – yet hidden no more. As the Cluetrain’s 95th thesis states, "We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting."
I tell you the adoption story for a couple of reasons. One is the hope that the situation will anger you and you will blog about it – and increase the knowledge of the ridiculous situation – one repeated elsewhere in the world. (The simple reality is that there aren’t enough prospective adoptive parents for a fraction of the orphans.) Perhaps the story will go viral and have real impact. Probably not. I also tell you the story as a potential example of the Impact of the Generous Web.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are intimately interconnected on this planet. (The comfort of my Toronto home may seem to shield me from the problems of the rest of the world but if you read the news last week, you know this isn’t the case.) When one part of the globe aches, we are all impacted. I believe the Generous Web can be a positive change-agent in dealing with the issues and problems which challenge us all. Perhaps I’m deluded, perhaps not.
As I’ve written many times before; who would have thought twenty years ago that the most robust operating system in the world would be free to everyone – created by women and men stepping up to its challenge? That it would be a prime example of the Power of Us. Who would have thought Bill Gates wrong ten years ago when he called the Internet "a passing fad", a fad that former Wired editor, Kevin Kelly says has taught us "the plausibility of the impossible." Who could foresee the rise of citizen journalists, dismissed by one member of the Main Stream Media as "pajama-clad" hacks, who would bring down a powerful US Speaker of the House, directly impact the outcome of a US election (for better or worse) and bring the career of a famous News Anchor to a close? And that this would only represent a small fraction of the impact of what some call the blogosphere, which in and of itself is only a small fraction of what’s happening on the internet.
Who would believe that blog heroes of mine like Kathy Sierra, practicing what she might call enlightened self-interest, would share her hard-earned knowledge with anyone willing to read CPU – changing how those readers think and work,
…from our (my co-authors and myself) perspective, it’s not about our ideas, it’s about what the ideas can do for our users.
Even if we are the only ones to have a specific new and protectable "idea" (unlikely), the moment we reveal it, everyone else will have it too. The barrier to entry today is way too low to use "intellectual property" as a main advantage. And all too often, we think we have a unique idea only to find that others are–independently–doing the same things.
This is about each of us being smart at different things. Not as a "team", but as individuals with our own self-interests. If I help you, and you help him, and then he helps her, and she helps… and so on, sooner or later someone in that chain-reaction does something I benefit from directly or indirectly. It works in open-source software, where developers are practicing the idea of "code it forward", and all contributors utlimately benefit (as do the end-users of their work). Why should it be so different for many of the things-that-aren’t-code?
It’s also brainstorming on an impossibly large scale. And what’s the worst that can happen?
Perhaps the "worst that can happen" can be found in the Jeff Jarvis’ comment "A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list."
In short order, the $100 Laptop will debut in the developing world – running on the aforementioned free operating system, Linux. WiMaxx networks will blanket this world, just as cell networks now blanket Kenya and other parts of Africa. (Almost everyone I run across in Kenya has a cell phone – including people who live in Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa.) The developing world will be connected at a level unimaginable two years ago. Millions of new voices will join the conversation. Issues and problems will be revealed, discussed and solved in those very conversations.
Governments will fall, corruption be revealed, new ideas explode and lives be radically changed as the Generous Web weaves its magic throughout the planet. Conversations like the one Doc Searls had with Sayo Ajiboye in 2001, will become common place. And don’t for a minute hear me suggesting that the Developed World will be the one positively impacting the Developing World. Just as Pastor Ajiboye had a profound impact on Doc’s thinking (as I’m sure Doc had on him), we will all benefit from the conversations – developed and developing world alike.
I’m not Pollyanna-ish enough to believe that the Generous Web will solve all the problems of the planet. But it does have the potential to solve many. It will certainly prove to be an interesting ride.