Happy New Year - aka - Time for a twist!

  • Cherry G Mathew on 17 Jan

Applying tech to local problems

This is going to be a pictureless post - sorry! For pictures see the twitter account https://www.twitter.com/kekorgin


It's been more than a year since we started this experiment. Initially, we modelled ourselves after Ghoomakkad (aka Infinity Hackbase). In a very short time we realised this won't work in Kerala. Then we moved to the beach (see a couple of stories down). Then we realised we were not needed. So we said, screw it - we'll take our skills where we're wanted!


Long version:

There's a coming together of various factors for a successful social project. For KeK it's about "Applying tech to local problems".

No, we're not naive. Yes, we were crazy enough to start from first principles. Yes, we got incredibly stressed out, but also, incredibly rewarded (that look on a kid's face when he sees the LED glow - PRICELESS!).

Now, battle hardened, and wiser, we've decided to become Tech Nomads. That's right - not Digital Nomads - but TECH NOMADS. This idea perhaps needs a bit of explanation, and to begin with, I'll need to talk about hacking.

A hack is a clever solution to a tricky problem (go on - search for it online!). Hacking needs a little bit of irreverance. The irreverance to scratch out that label that says "WARRANTY VOID IF SEAL BROKEN!" and boldly unscrew where noone has unscrewed before! It needs a little bit of patience. A little bit of naughtiness. A little bit of not following the rules.

In India, our McAulayan education system has invested about two centuries and the might of the British Raj, and that of its successor, the Indian state, to squash out that bright spark out of a child's eyes at the earliest possible opportunity. Normally, this is run through the stern school teachers' cane - but most often than not, it is sustained and hammered down by that almighty social tool - namely - RIDICULE. Most of us who have been victims of this system, have at one point or another swallowed our curiosity for that visceral fear of being laughed at by our peers. This situation of course, is inversely proportionate to the social class/caste ranking of the reader - but that's for another rant. Having involved myself for the last 6 years among the "poorest of the poor" (see http://www.sisp.be ) I know this to be fact.

And by far, with KeK, this has been our greatest challenge at every level.

We deliberately didn't "market" our space. We wanted to see if it was percieved to be "valuable" and thus naturally embraced. In order for this perception to arise, a few axiomatic assumptions are in order:

  1. People are self motivated.
  2. People can take responsibility for themselves.
  3. This implies, people can self organise, to make a space useful to themselves.

These fundamental ideas are, we discovered, severely in short supply across the board in and around the location we serviced. For over six months, a space existed with excellent facilities for electronics hacking, great proximity to one of the best beaches in India, and (arguably) good company. And it was for FREE.

We have discovered that this filter was a terribly high bar. A very very small number of individuals scaled this bar and hacked with us - they came up with some incredible work (have a look at the stories below!). These individuals are destined for success - I have seen people on several continents and from various backgrounds - from the heights of Oxbridge/Ivy League Academia, to the grim reality of North Korea's regimented education system. Mark my words - these folks will see excellent success.

But barring the exception, the rule was that the majority of people saw the space as a quick stopover enroute to relaxing at the beach. Or a social space to chill at.

Further, the social organisations we engaged with have no bar to assess our abilities, and the possibilities of collaborating with a gang of hackers. We gathered twice at the beach in as many years (see https://www.hackbeach.in ) - both times, we were seen as 'visitors' rather than as people whose skills could be used in the long term. There are several reasons for this - and our existing setup was primarily insufficient.

From these experiences, we have inferred the following:

  1.  In order to be true to our aim of Applying tech to local problems , we need to start acting on this.
  2. For this to happen, we need to partner with people already on the ground, who have worked in the locality, and have the social and civic networks in that locality.
  3. We need to be specific about our goals, and have a time limit to commit to what we offer.

Thus, we have decided to go mobile. We've packed up our infrastructure into a 3ft x 3ft x 3ft case, which we will ship around with us as mercenary hackers. We'll park in our hosts' facilities for a period of between 3 - 6 months. We'll apply our resources for free to our hosting organisation for this period of time to the best of our abilities. And then we'll pack up and move on to the next one.

This makes us Tech Nomads. Like gypsies, we'll go around the country, Applying tech to local problems.

Do you have a problem that needs Tech attention? Are you trying to solve a local problem? (Social, environmental, Educational?)

Please give us a shout - hello@kek.org.in

Right now, we're a core team of two - myself ( and Santhosh Raju (http://fraggerfox.homenet.org:10080/bsd-blog/ ) and loosely knit group of supporters who swoop in on request/need.

We're hoping to pitch tent soon - but until then, we'll be hanging around in retreat (before our next foray) at the Centre for Internet and Society basement hackspace in Bangalore (https://www.cis-india.org/) where several other illustrious hackers plotted their empires (buy me beer for names :-) )

We hope to not hang around Bangalore for more than a couple of weeks - but if you're in town, do drop by to witness our transit!

That's it for now - Kovalam - we had a great time - and we hope to pass by and pitch tent!

PS: We're not at CIS yet - please stay tuned on twitter and on the mailing list for an announcement before you visit!