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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What can be better than when solutions are creatively crafted, by people who need those solutions the most. Solutions that ease the burden of day-to-day life. Solutions that make use of limited resources available. Solutions that work, despite little encouragement, aid and 'technical' know-how. Solutions that are adapted to the environment, in most cases, solutions that are eco-friendly.

While they are getting recognition, I wonder whether much is being done to nurture them and create micro enterprises out of them. Do they threaten large enterprises and governments, by the suggestion of wresting away control and power?


There is a Sci-Tech special in the recent Outlook - Gram By Microgram - which covers innovators across rural India. These are stories of individuals, practitioners of rustic science that is compelling, practical and applicable. Many ideas there tailored to the environment - some of the innovations featured :

- zero-head water turbines
- amphibious cycles
- gears in cycle rickshaws
- pedal washing machines
- convertible tractors
- water pumps operated through GSM mobile phones
- cow-milking machines
- electronic sticks for the visually impaired made from PVC pipes which even has a puddle detector

GreatBong at CSF writes :

The common threads through these nine stories----

1)Meagre resources available to the inventors
2)None of them have a formal engineering background
3) Government apathy to genuine innovation

Here's the whole set of individual stories in the feature:

Balram Singh Saini & Prem Singh Patiala Haryana, Nripen Kalita Jiakur Assam, Raghava Gowda Murulya Karnataka, Bhanjibhai Mathukia Kalawad Gujarat, Sanket V. Chitagopakar & Prashant V. Harshangi Gulbarga Karnataka, Sheikh Jabbar Nagpur Maharashtra, Arvindbhai Patel Vanch Gujarat, Remya Jose Nenmani Kerala, M. Saidullah Mathia Dih Bihar.

And a link to the National Innovation Foundation which has profiles, video demos and photos of almost one hundred other such rural innovations, courtesy Suhail.

Worldchanging, where I'm going to cross-post this at had also linked to a feature in the BBC News earlier this month on some other rural innovations, including - a motorcycle-driven field cultivator, a seed-cum-fertiliser dispenser and a bicycle-mounted sprayer.

6:32:25 PM    comment []  trackback []

Hostility in Blogs

Neha and I were chatting the other day about Indian blogs and how vicious and hostile bloggers and commenters can be. Am not going into a heavy link-fest here - I suspect anyone who reads Indian blogs might have noticed it too.  I've personally felt under attack [see No. 13] several times, and not always for reasons I can comprehend. A short excerpt from a personal attack which rankled way back in 2003:

"I was of the opinion that self-obsessed, inanitites of life were the mainstay of newbie bloggers but I must say Dina Mehta's blog blew that away to smithereens! I also thought that as people grow old, they start writing "sense" instead of the Indian Blogosphere's staple diet of "I met A, I wore B, I ate C". Alas, Dina Mehta dispatched that illusion of mine too 'cos she is old and silly!

...... So what can we expect from an experienced, old and silly blogger with a suggestive-looking picture of hers bang on the home page? 25 bonus points to the rocket scientist who thought of the word "drivel" in their heads first! "

Comments at some blogs run into several scores - and many times it is one group vs another - each speaking over the other - and shouting as loud as they can to be heard.  I must confess that I've been party to a few such 'discussions' myself.  The author of the blog is often forced to defend his or her case in a tone and manner that isn't otherwise their style, and makes them so uncomfortable. Many have closed comments as a result of this viciousness. Others are reflecting on what strategy might they adopt to keep healthy and constructive discussions going.  

So what's happening here? Is it that there are just some rotten eggs?  Is it that they are perverts and sicko's? Or spineless cowards who go under the name Anonymous (several Indian blogs are on Blogger and this is an easy way out for commenters)?   Or is there something deeper that makes us want to shout out loud - you are wrong and I am right?

Perhaps it is time to reflect.  Its probably got a lot to do with how we are coping with this relatively new medium.  We come from a society that's so hierarchical in nature, that has very strong rules and sets of do's and don'ts, that has power balances rooted in tradition, that has little concept or value for personal space, and that doesnot always encourage team play.  

Let's just be conscious that it is a new medium, and we're in a transitional phase - the blog world is toppling and threatening many of our traditional structures, giving open voice and power to many who hitherto had none.  It is a world that is not hierarchical, one that encourages an even-playing field for free speech and debate no matter what gender or age or race or religion you belong to, it does not have many pre-ordained rules and prescriptions, it is one where we need to learn to respect personal space, and to embrace team play that can be so rewarding. 

Maybe we're in a state of Anomie - we're all learning ... let's deal with these issues in ways that make us more comfortable --- for some, it is to close comments (which is such a pity), for others it is to simply ignore obvious 'flamers', and not engage in a debate.  I personally prefer the latter. When you don't engage someone, they may knock harder for a while, but soon,  they will go away.  

It's also obviously not just an Indian online phenomenon - there's some wisdom  in this post by Chris Allen on Extrapolative Hostility in the Online Medium - where he quotes Mick LaSalle, in a column :

"As for why people get hostile when they hear a differing opinion, I go back to Spinoza's definition of love and hatred. He says that people love that which they think reinforces their survival and hate that which they think threatens their survival. I believe - this is just my humble theory, now - that when people hear an opinion that counters theirs, their minds extrapolate from that one opinion to imagine a whole philosophical system. And then they imagine how they would fare in a world run according to that imagined system. So they go from disagreeing to feeling threatened in a matter of seconds, and they lash out. Often they write letters that begin, "You are obviously," and that's where they identify, not you, but the phantom they feel threatened by......"

Chris goes on to say :

I think that Mick LaSalle is exactly right ...I've seen this type of hostility based on extrapolation regularly in online mediums: in emails, newsgroups, wikis, blogs, etc. I've been guilty of it a few times myself, though usually for me the result is that I don't respond at all - "Oh, he is just a flaming liberal", "She's an arch-conservative" or "He is a just a technophobe." I can then feel comfortable in ignoring the rest of his or her point of view rather then trying to understand it.

I doubt if explaining this theory to someone who writes a hostile message is useful - they will take it as yet another attack, which will likely contribute to another cycle of flamage. But I do find Mick's theory useful as another way to read and understand hostile messages, and respond more appropriately.

UPDATE : Neha picks up this thread, with her reflections :

Blogs to me are essentially spaces, which enable spontaneous thought processes, and connections. It is a medium and not an end by it self. However, it is far more democratic and sometimes exclusive than any other space that we have been used in India. The only kind of feedback we have been able to give back to the world has been Letters to the Editor section of some newspapers, and depending on the newspaper, you'd have your letter cut to about 5% of what you wanted to say. 

Read more here.


11:08:05 AM    comment []  trackback []