Let us impact the material world

Gora Mohanty gora at sarai.net
Tue Jul 1 15:40:44 CEST 2008

On Fri, 27 Jun 2008 00:56:58 -0400
Sean Moss-Pultz <sean at openmoko.com> wrote:
> Think: The collapse of so many hi tech companies on our stock exchanges 
> has humbled many. Creators within the digital world -- no matter how 
> novel and exciting -- will have no value unless they impact the material 
> world directly.
> So this is my call to all of us today. Our work must begin to impact the
> material world. We have the tools. We have the knowledge. We must use 
> our knowledge to transcend the digital world.

Coming into this thread late, as I was travelling. Firstly, thank
you for a nicely-written, and passionate posting. I am a little
curious, though, what exactly do you mean by the "material world"?
>From part of your message (the reference to companies collapsing
on stock exchanges), this seems to be largely a definition based
on financial health, though the rest of your message seems to
indicate otherwise.

I am also of the view that FOSS developers need to get out of the
software ghetto, and take a larger view of the world, and the
possible impact on the world of the software, and hardware that we
jointly produce. In my opinion, FOSS has managed to overturn
"traditional" thinking in the world of software because it was not
considered a significant-enough threat to entrenched interests
till it was too late. We have the possibility of making such efforts
count in ways which really make a difference to people in the
world, but that work will be much harder, both because of more
external opposition, and because of our own failure to visualise
and cater to real needs.

> Hardly a day goes by for me without thinking about this elegant idea.
> The smart phone has become too complex. Our challenge is to make it 
> simple and wise.
> Yes I am well aware of the distance between us and this goal. The 
> complexity of our system pains me as much as I'm sure it pains you. But 
> starting today, I hope we can become more conscious and more focused on 
> simplicity and wisdom.

(I will take the liberty of snipping your well-reasoned points---which
 are already being followed-up to, in order to add a perspective of
 my own, which comes from living in India, and working on localisation
 efforts in Indian languages.)

As many of you might be aware, mobile phones are a huge success story
in India. Currently, India has the fastest-growing population of mobile
users, and it is likely to remain that way for a while, as the per-capita
usage is well behind even countries like China. This revolution is
happening not only among the rich, as poorer sections of the society have
been among the first to appreciate the cost/benefit ratio of a mobile
phone. I have personally seen rickshaw pullers using mobiles. To my mind,
a killer application on mobiles in India will be support for Indian
languages on the hardware, in a manner transparent to end-users. The cost
of an OpenMoko phone will also need to come down significantly, but that
can come from sheer economy of scale.

I would like to know about people working on such efforts in an open-source
environment. There are various people (e.g., Nokia) trying to do such
things, but as Sean points out, we can do it better. Such work will also
have implications for console-mode support for Indian languages in free
operating systems like Linux, which can again be a big win for FOSS
penetration in India.


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