Chalo Dilli

Not that you would notice, of course, given my sporadic blogging in general, but I thought that I should let you know that I will most likely not be posting stuff for a few days. So if you land here and find nothing new, I suggest you don’t go away without checking some of the archives.

Where, you may ask, am I going? I am off to London to see the Queen. Just kidding. I am off to New Delhi to attend the “Annual Conference of the HUDCO Chair Institutes” Sept 8-9th. The topic is “Cities: Engines of Rural Development.”

You may know of my abiding interest in rural development. I have written a concept paper on RISC–Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons. It is rather long — about 40 pages. So I would not recommend it as casual reading.

Of late there has been some action on RISC. Vinod Khosla guest-edited a recent issue of The Economic Times and he mentioned RISC in it. Then I got to hear that he spoke about RISC to the Planning Commission. And now I am going to be talking to a bunch of academics (those are the Chairs of HUDCO institutes) and some government bureaucrats (I guess from rural development departments and such.)

It has been a while since I was in Delhi. Last time in mid-February, I spent a few days meeting with people in connection with my interest in education. That is my day job–think about enabling education. My idea is to use the power tools of information and communications technologies (ICT) to make education more effective and efficient. Technology, as any economist will tell you, is labor substituting. Whenever a factor of production is expensive (labor for instance), you substitute it with a less expensive factor (capital for instance.) Since teaching labor is very expensive in India, use technology which is cheap these days.

Crazy, I hear the cry go out. How in the name of god almighty is teaching labor expensive in India? The fact is that good quality teachers are extremely–let me repeat that–extremely scarce. Scarcity implies high price. Therefore the cost of high quality teachers is prohibitive. We cannot afford high quality teachers because they are a luxury. Not just that, even if we had all the money, there is an acute shortage of teachers required. We need millions of teachers. We simply don’t have them. Hence my insistence that we have to find a substitute for good teachers and that happens to be the tools that ICT provides very inexpensively.

That’s it for now.

Blogs as Conversations

Physically, the Internet is a network of networks, a network of physical connections with computers as the nodes. In a logical sense, at a higher level of conceptualization, it is a network of relationships that is established through conversations between humans. The Internet is new but it is merely a modern technological manifestation which addresses the much older higher-level need for humans to connect. We connect in our daily lives through conversations with people in our neighborhood. The Internet expands the concept of the neighborhood to global proportions through the World Wide Web.

Conversations on the Internet are not a new phenomenon. Before the World Wide Web, the Internet was home to Usenet, a very diverse set of virtual communities (called news groups) with interests that ranged from metaphysics to culture to science and everything in between. In the mid-80s and 90s, I conversed furiously on the various Usenet groups (such as soc.culture.Indian) writing thousands of posts on matters that mattered to me as an Indian living in the US, and connecting with others with similar interests—India, economic development, Buddhism, etc. That habit of conversing with others quite easily transferred to writing a blog centered on my obsession with India’s economic growth and development.

Einstein had noted that humans, limited by time and space, suffer from what he called an “optical delusion of consciousness” which makes one experience oneself as something separate from others. The goal then, he said, was to “free ourselves by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

At its best, blogs enable that widening of compassion by connecting with others in conversations that continue to draw people with differing points of view. My blog helps me connect and learn from those who converse with me on my blog. By writing I often reveal to myself what I know implicitly but don’t know explicitly. It is process of discovery. Then there is the wider learning that comes from visiting other blogs and overhearing the conversations going on there.

Of course, one may not find all conversations interesting or meaningful. Coming across tales told by idiots full of sound and fury signifying nothing, one just moves on. There are many tellers of tales and many stories being told that deserve to be heard. Our neighborhood now has a virtually (sic) unlimited number of interesting people for us to hear stories from.

Let the blogs roll on.

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