The Oracle of Zimbabwe

Author: George Kerscher

Author's note

This essay should be taken as a metaphor. The situation described shows how access to information can change peoples position in society. The main character is blind and in most social settings is not a figure of respect. This essay simply points out how technology and access to information can change a persons position in society.

The Question

A farmer in a small village in Zimbabwe was having a problem with his crop. It happened that a insect was eating the crop and no matter what the farmer did, he could not control the insects. Unless he did something soon the crop would be lost. He knew that he must get help from the Oracle.

The farmer went to the hut of the Oracle and asked if he could come in. Immediately the Oracle welcomed the farmer and offered him some water and some nuts that had been given to him. The farmer explained to the Oracle his problem and described the insect as well as he could. The Oracle asked if he would mind staying a little longer to answer some more questions and the farmer agreed.

The Answer

The Oracle, who is blind, had gone to a school where he learned to use a small hand held device for connecting to the InterNet. The device used synthetic speech and could switch between three languages. The Oracle could use this device from his village through a simple solar powered satellite link. The school provided the training and the equipment and his education continued from his home village. The Oracle, understood that the access to information could help many people in his village.

The farmer watched as the Oracle created an InterNet search around the information the farmer provided. He also posted a message to agriculture news groups describing the problem and asking for assistance. He provided his return email address.

Together they read various reports about similar problems found in other countries. They read about two cases where the conditions sounded remarkably the same. They spent several hours with the farmer looking through information on the InterNet about the farmer's problem. Finally the Oracle received two email messages from experts on what could be tried. They suggestions seemed to support the articles they found. The experts and the articles suggested two things for the farmer to try.

The farmer thanked the Oracle for his help and set off for his plot to do what was suggested. The Oracle continued his remote studies with the school.

Resolution

Several days passed and the farmer returned to tell the Oracle that the wild plants he put in with the crop chased the insects away. The crop was damaged, but all was not lost. The farmer promised to bring the Oracle some of the crop at harvest time.