Thursday, January 18, 2007

Technology Leap

Here’s Wayne’s latest on Togo’s Technology Leap.

A few months ago we went to an Information Technology Conference organized by Peace Corps for the 20+ Small Business Development PC volunteers in Togo and their host country counterparts. We talked about telephones, computers, radio, internet, etc and their role in the development of Togo. I presented a session on solar panels along with Claude, the business owner of the small solar panel business I am advising, as a way to help bring technology to villages without electricity by recharging cell phones and radio & flashlight batteries.

One of the topics was a new telephone service now available in Togo called ‘fixed wireless”. It’s a cell phone that can only be used in one locale within a radius of a mile or two. So the pricing is lower due to that tight “roaming” limitation. In the long run it will replace the old land lines which have high maintenance costs.

As you may know we have been using our landlord’s land line phone connection for our email connection. It was much more convenient than going to the Internet café a mile away. But the land line connection was fraught with problems – either the phone had no dial tone or the phone card company wouldn’t answer or the server had no connection available. So often I was back on my bike to the internet café. Needless to say when we learned that the “fixed wireless” phone had an internet option for unlimited use 24/7, we went for it; especially when we saw that it was about 5 or 10 times faster than dial up. It’s definitely not broadband DSL or cable – they are 5 or 10 times faster yet. But for Togo it’s a big leap.

With this increased speed, we can use Skype, a free software program, to make phone calls for free to other computers anywhere in the world who have also downloaded Skype. So contact with our family has gone up considerably. And the quality is much better than our cell phone. Or we can do “instant messaging” too.

Our new phone also has us better connected to home through listening to National Public Radio on KPLU internet. We love the jazz and news. But maybe the most amazing thing about our new internet connection is what we can listen to as a live broadcast. Would you believe Cal Lutheran University football games on Saturdays? Not only can we hear Karsten and Sherith (Cate’s brother and niece) yelling and screaming loud and clear, but we can send an email to the announcer and have him thank his listeners from Togo at the end of the game!! Add to that listening to the Rose Bowl and Seahawk playoff games and you get the idea! (although I couldn’t get a connection for the last Seahawk’s game so I listened to Dustin’s TV over Skype.) I still miss the video but this sure beats just reading a newspaper article online after the game.

Now you know Togo is a step closer to the developed Western world and that the whole world continues to get smaller. However our electricity was cut off almost everyday for the last few weeks before the holidays in an “8-hour on / 8-hour off” pattern, so sometimes it’s one leap forward and one step backward. (But as you see in the photo we got used to using the computer on battery by lantern light.) All of this technology is still juxtaposed with the things that have not changed for the last hundred plus years, like the women cooking on outdoor charcoal stoves and carrying water on their heads walking through the free range chickens, goats and sheep foraging on the pathways that pass for streets. It makes for a mind-boggling contrast.