Question Box: the Internet for remote places, no literacy or keyboards required

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22 Responses to “Question Box: the Internet for remote places, no literacy or keyboards required”

  1. JJR1971 says:

    The question that sticks in my mind is…is this simply cheaper than building libraries and training librarians?

    Ankh sez: “…akin to walking into a huge dark library and shouting out your question, and having voices from the stacks reply with answers.”

    Hmmm…and hoping the voice is that of the educated, well-read Librarian than some random yahoo…

  2. Antinous says:

    is this simply cheaper than building libraries and training librarians?

    In a village with fifty inhabitants, three weeks on foot from the nearest paved road, in a country where buildings are made of cow pies, physical libraries are probably not ever going to be the answer.

  3. Takuan says:

    well, them thuribles ain’t gonna chastise themselves, ashita.

  4. mpb says:

    This is the 21st century equivalent of the village scribe, someone who would write and read letters for most residents (who were illiterate). There are rules for letter writers and I’m sure they would be enforced for Googlers and Yahoos, too, although a bit more difficult to enforce when not F2F.

  5. Takuan says:

    use a giant, carved stone head

  6. Takuan says:

    Hindi?

  7. arkizzle says:

    #5 & #9

    Brilliant!

  8. magicbean says:

    Brilliant. This project epitomizes the best qualities of the internet – making information available, accessible, fluid. Organic growth based on the needs and available resources of real people.

    The whole thing is a little Oracle-like. Nice mythic resonance. Wonder if this would do well in a place like Chiapas, where the Zapatistas have done well with the internet, but literacy and financial resources are still abysmally low.

    This also connects a different type of people to the internet, who don’t have the privileged white boy frame of reference…diversity is always good for evolution.

  9. arkizzle says:

    #5 & #9

    Brilliant!

  10. RJ says:

    @#10 – ZARDOZ… SPEAKS TO YOU… HIS CHOSEN ONES.

    But seriously, when I first read about this, I was a little skeptical. After all, what sort of questions could far-flung villagers possibly think to ask? And how would the tech on the other end know how to translate the local lingo into accessible queries? After all, it would take a long time to get an answer if your question was something like, “Can you tell me a better way to fish?”

    But the skepticism is misplaced. After all, we all went through a learning curve when first getting acquainted with the net. Who’s to say these villagers can’t learn how to ask the right questions, too? Eventually, it may lead to learning new ways to live and introducing internet access to their area, modernizing and improving.

  11. ankh says:

    This is wonderful.

    Whose imagery is this, I learned it in the 300-baud modem days — that using the Net can be akin to walking into a huge dark library and shouting out your question, and having voices from the stacks reply with answers. Borges, perhaps?

  12. Steaming Pile says:

    @magicbean – “The whole thing is a little Oracle-like. Nice mythic resonance.”

    It reminds me of a less-than-successful Steven Spielberg film from 2001 called A.I. – Artificial Intelligence. Gigolo Joe and David the boy robot go to see Doctor Know to find out where they might find the Blue Fairy who could make him into a real boy.

  13. Patrick Dodds says:

    #9 – funniest comment I’ve read on BB for months.

  14. Takuan says:

    I thought #4 was funnier…. we have the makings for a jihad here.

  15. Stu Mark says:

    My parents own one of these. Except they call it “the telephone.” ;-)

  16. Roach says:

    I don’t have any problem with this, per se – anyone trying to help those less fortunate is probably better than me – but I find that this endeavor and the free laptop project and those like it don’t take into account the reality of the situation in most of these countries. Laptops are useless when what you don’t have food, potable water, shelter and defense.

    The problem is that, while we received computers at a time when we were more or less ready to incorporate them gradually into our daily routines, these countries are in a vastly different developmental state and need the sorts of things we needed at that stage. Know what would really help Subsaharan Africa? Air conditioning, no joke.

  17. MCM says:

    Looking for porn would be a little awkward on this thing…

  18. Lis Riba says:

    Speaking of 300-baud-days, when I was working tech support, I took a couple calls from interpreters for the deaf.

    The hearing-impaired was using a TDD to communicate with the interpreter, who was speaking on the phone with me.

    Rather slow, and communicating technical concepts was difficult when the people on either end had more knowledge than the person in the middle, but we did resolve the problem.

    [I much prefered it once the company instituted direct TDD support; TDD was still slow, but comparatively direct.]

    I hope the searchers for this project are well-informed and good communicators to avoid these obstacles. [Librarian reference desk would be good training. :) ]

  19. Brainspore says:

    Imagine what this thing would seem like to a remote tribe like the Kalahari bushmen in “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”

  20. philipacamaniac says:

    Han Solo & friends said it best: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

    There’s something entirely too dystopian about this setup. Who pays the operators? Does this employment cause bias in answers? Imagine if corporate policy required the operators to give “canned” answers to certain queries…

    Not only would the villagers be unaware of any bias or misinformation, they would also unfortunately embrace it as truth coming from “the Question Box.”

  21. Antinous says:

    After all, what sort of questions could far-flung villagers possibly think to ask?

    Get as far as you want off the beaten path in the Himalayas and the kids there will still know how your iPod works better than you do. There are very few places on earth where people don’t know about the rest of the world. Just because they don’t have the infrastructure doesn’t mean that they don’t have the knowledge.

  22. hooray4zoidberg says:

    I can see it already:

    “Where do stars come from?”

    OP – “STFU N000b RTFM”

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