Making a difference, changing the world is a very low tech ambition

Courtesy of Empower Campaign and Bigodi Presents Progressive Nursery and Primary School
Courtesy of Empower Campaign and Bigodi Presents Progressive Nursery and Primary School

Yesterday, I read 34,543 complaints on twitter about how crappy the Internet was, how AT&T wasn’t getting a signal to someone’s iPhone, how someone’s iPad wasn’t picking up a five-bar WiFi signal and on and on. And I read one article in the WSJ Magazine about how one man — Thomas Witherspoon — was changing the world by distributing hand-crank radios to people in regions of the world the Internet is not touching or would otherwise fail.

And I got to thinking about how we rely on an infrastructure like the Internet, power grid and food supply chain for existence and information that is becoming increasingly susceptible to disruption due to weather, volcanos, oil rigs blowing up or the maturity level of politicians.

And it gets scary. Sometimes, it gets downright terrifying.

Last month, I wrote a blog post that asks the question; “Can you circumnavigate the world by clock and fist?” Quite simply, if everything you reply on to live and know stuff were to fail tomorrow and never come back, could you survive?

Here are a couple examples of people doing things simply — without relying on Internet or power grid infrastructure — and changing people’s lives.

Thomas Witherspoon, shortwave handcrank radio
Witherspoon has taken his love of shortwave radio and filtered it through his experience in the corporate world, devising a strategy to help the most people for the least money. ETOW distributes wind-up radios to isolated villages across Africa and into Belize and Romania, providing listeners with vital information. His radios are also proving to be disaster-relief heroes in earthquake-devastated Haiti.

Ashok Gadgil, small, efficient stoves in Africa
An estimated 2.2 million refugees huddle in makeshift camps in the Darfur region of western Sudan. In the camps, they are safe, but they cook their meals over inefficient wood fires, and as already scant forests are depleted they must venture ever farther to gather fuel–up to 9 miles in some cases. Away from camp, the men risk being killed and the women raped or mutilated by the Janjaweed militia.

These are just two examples where people didn’t wait around for the power grid to be put up or someone else to do their part before they got involved. They just rolled up their sleeves and solved the problems with the limitations given them.

What excuses do you have today for not making a difference in your community?

Yeah, well, I don’t care to hear them. Neither does anyone else.