Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coming soon: the $100 (or so) laptop

So the poor kids' gadget to bridge the digital divide will be available in developing countries this month! Newsweek has a cool interview with Negroponte about it recently, calling it "the people's laptop". OK, so the price is still $150 - but the MIT guru said he'll work it down to $100.

But what's maybe cooler is the (less than) "$100 Un-PC" produced by Chennai-based company Novatium. It looks a lot more familiar to the people - just like a PC, but stripped down to the very basic parts (it only uses cell-phone processors).

The main difference between the two products is the drive behind them: Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child machine "is dependent on the kindness of wealthy partners." Whereas Novatium's Nova NetPC was about making profit, and "making the computer affordable was only part of the equation."

This reminds me of the clash of ideas between William Easterly in "The White Man's Burden" and Jeffrey Sach's "The End of Poverty".

Who will prevail?

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jakarta flood and urbanization failure

One big reason for the Jakarta flooding is our failure to urbanize properly. As Lefebvre said, everything is now essentially "urban": from the Thamrin-Sudirman corridor, to the mountains of Puncak in West Java, even to the forests of Papua - meaning they are under the power of urban capital interests.

So why shouldn't the old natural flood plains of Jakarta (now places called Pantai Indah Kapuk and Kelapa Gading) fall into urban interests, as every place has? Why - specifically in Jakarta - do such interests manifest in extreme forms: building settlements where there should be none, thus risking their lives and the lives of others? Quite simple: no choice.

People need to live in the city, and they couldn't. I mean, if apartments cost Rp 10 million per square meter (and renting is far from cheap, too), then how many people can afford to live in the city? Naturally, sprawl happens. Destruction of nature is not only due to rich people wanting to have grand villas in Puncak, but also our failure to urbanize Jakarta properly.

But this may about to change. Remember Jusuf Kalla's wild idea (i.e. here and here) to build 20-storey public low income flats (rumah susun) all over big cities in Indonesia? Well, that may soon materialize (although hopefully the Government will not take his words literally!). Last week, the President just approved the exemption of value added tax (PPN) of rumah susun development by developers. The BTN bank apparently is quite excited. They've allocated Rp 1 trillion for financing this. The Director said,
If the Government can provide interest rate subsidy of 3%, then that will bring the interest rate down from currently 14% to 11%.
Hey, 11% is quite close to the 10% that Ciputra wanted. Last year, the big real estate mogul said that if he gets 10% rate, he is "willing to invest whatever it takes to build low-income flats in Jakarta."

Are we about to see a better urbanization of Jakarta?

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

On Network

Interesting that I should read Dewi's post that mentions informal community networks in Jakarta and Bangkok, and not long afterwards I stumble on Kazys Varnelis' "The Rise of Network Culture," through his blog post.

Being a fan of Manuel Castells, I read the latter quite excitedly, and found it to be a good further exploration on the importance of networks. It's quite a heavy and philosophical read (not sure I understood all of it), stating how "network culture" is the next big thing after modernism and postmodernism. I quote my favorite part:
Today, network culture succeeds postmodernism. It does so in a more subtle way. It does not figure itself as an “ism” that would lay claim to the familiar territory of manifestos, symposia, definitive museum exhibits and so on, but rather servers as a more emergent phenomenon.
A question remains in my head: how does this entirely "new cultural condition" link to the lives of the poor? Surely, they have networks too; in fact, many aspects of their livelihoods depend on networks. Would networks mean more to them now, as more people in rural areas have access to cell-phones, than before?

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