Local context isn’t all context in a networked world

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Illustration by lightsource/DepositPhotos.

With a background in software engineering and business analysis, I’m floored by things in Trinidad and Tobago at times – be it the odd ID photocopying fetish, or wondering where the data that should be the basis for government decisions is, and so on. It’s not that the rest of the world is perfect. It’s that the rest of the world seems to have been trying harder for some time.

So much of the world is interconnected, but it’s demonstrable that people don’t realize it. Like the flapping of wings of butterflies, it’s easy to create an effect on the other side of the world – and to be aware of that is important. Today, I’m writing about this in Trinidad and Tobago’s context because I simply happen to be in Trinidad and Tobago.

The principles apply well beyond here, and are even more complex than this simple entry can demonstrate. Network power is fluid and doesn’t stand still long enough to write about in a context that would stand the test of time.

Within the confines of a relatively small nation, within the confines of a restrictive financial system that doesn’t take seriously the use of the Internet as a means of obtaining legal foreign exchange… we might need to act locally, but we also need to be seen globally.

This is important in a nation that, collectively, finds the only real exports to be decreasingly profitable when information fiefdoms dominate how we view the world now and in the future – and by doing that, dominating how we see our own past.

The Papaya and the Paw-paw: Language and reach.

I was given a hard time once on a social media post because I wrote papaya instead of paw-paw – which, in Trinidad and Tobago, are the same thing. Why did I do that?

The global population is 7.6 billion, of that 7.6 billion roughly a billion at this time speak English. The population of Trinidad and Tobago is estimated at 1.365 million. So, using the colloquial paw-paw means only 0.13% of English speakers will know what I’m talking about, which severely limits an audience – but it also means that automatic translators that won’t have the tools for colloquialisms given implicit context will not be able to tranalste it.

Papaya, however, translates fine. The word is representative of what is accepted around the world to call a thing in one language, and thus translates to other languages where it can be understood. It might seem plain, it might seem vanilla, but really, it’s about understanding that the audience is larger than just one country.

We’re networked. While I’m writing this about Trinidad and Tobago, it applies to so many other places. Language is a protocol; subsets of it in a local context are only good for that local context.

I didn’t make it so, that’s the way it is – if we did the same with computing technology, such that the hypertext transfer protocol (http) had a local dialect, there would be mayhem. And this is only a part of understanding that we live in a networked world.

So, culturally, you want to call it a paw paw? Fine. But for an international audience, let them know you’re talking about a papaya.

Networked Journalism

The above has great bearing on local media which, in Trinidad and Tobago, is very focused on the local market – yet the websites are not just local read, they’re foreign read. Each of these websites is an implicit ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago. I don’t think they realize that, and collectively, if they do they don’t care too much.

This extends to the archives. Mark Lyndersay covered the visual aspect of this in, “Journalism 2017: The lost visual history (Bitdepth #1101)”; the written archives are also at issue in accessibility in various ways.

Then, there’s the content. I read five paragraphs into a story today in one newspaper – physical print – and wondered what the article was about, simply because the writer, and the editor, assumed I magically knew the context they would provide below the acronym soup references. My secondary school teachers would have ridiculed me in front of the class for that – I thank them for that now.

The Trinidad and Tobago media, as a whole, needs to realize that there’s a global audience – and with the above paw-paw example, you can see where the actual audience is. Certainly, we need ominous back and forth articles that lead nowhere for the local readership – that’s stock in trade for local politics – but what about that global audience? What about interacting with the rest of the planet?

And this, of course, leads us to…

Social Networks

In this article, I connected the traditional media and social media as what the French have called the Fourth Estate. This means bloggers, businesses and anyone with an online presence has a responsibility to some degree – I don’t know what degree – for what they post. Legally, Justice Frank Seepersad has made a local ruling in the context of libel earlier in 2018, which makes the point clear in a local context.

It’s also a global context – and in an economic sense, despite the lack of effort from banks and government, that global context has more bearing on Trinidad and Tobago than the standard picong we find on social media. Granted, it’s good picong, but it’s typically local – and the fact that international readers don’t know what I’m talking about underlines the point. You’ll note that I added a link to my first use of the word so the rest of the planet knows what it means. Good practice.

On social media, we’re a part of the global village. Sure, that means you can hop on board the ‘hate the blonde President with dubious hairstyle’, but don’t we have more to offer? I would think so.

Government

Government online presences, while improving, aren’t really there yet. And really, there’s a problem of bringing antiquated paper systems into the 1990s in 2018. It’s slow, it is happening, and it doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough. I mean, we’re still photocopying identification.

I’d go on and write more about this, but I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I do see strides being made – but I am critical because the rest of the planet isn’t waiting around for a statistically irrelevant economy. That’s an unpopular thing to hear, I know, but we’re just not a large enough market. This is why Mark Zuckerburg hasn’t shown up in Trinidad and Tobago after the CA scandal.

The onus is on Trinidad and Tobago.

Remember that country we used to make jokes about? Wait for it…

Economics

This all ties to economics, and the economics are befuddling for local businesses because of convoluted methods of collecting payments online, antiquated paper processes being slowly made technological, and because of the reality that people don’t have as much disposable income as they used to around the world – and, specifically, locally.

There are some who will say that it’s too late. It’s not. It’s simply late. And until the government and banks catch up, the least we could do is make it more viable so that maybe at some point they’ll realize the untapped potential within Trinidad and Tobago. That means that we collectively have to, for them to take notice.

Taran Rampersad

Taran Rampersad has over three decades of experience working with technology, the majority of which was as a software engineer.

He is a published author on virtual worlds and was part of the team of writers at WorldChanging.com that won the Utne Award.

He is an outspoken advocate of simplifying processes and bending technology’s use to society’s needs.

His volunteer work related to technology and disasters has been mentioned by the media (BBC), and is one of the plank-owners of combining culture with ICT in the Caribbean (ICT) through CARDICIS and has volunteered time towards those ends.

As an amateur photographer, he has been published in educational books, magazines, websites and NASA’s ‘Sensing The Planet’.

These days, he’s focusing more on his writing and technology experiments. Feel free to contact him through Facebook Messenger.