In technology, as in life, it's all too easy to take what we have for granted. Chances are, right now you are personally equipped with more technology than was used to put the first man on the moon. And though most of us tend to be technologically loaded for bear these days, we're always on the prowl for the faster, lighter, higher capacity, shinier, cooler and generally better. Most of us are fortunate to exist in our high-tech personal bubbles, where the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are rarely a concern.
I know I consider myself fortunate that my biggest problems in life sometimes are nothing more than finding a better battery for my Droid or explaining why 300Mbps really means something else to 802.11n clients. But I'm about to embark on a trip to Haiti, and as I research how I might be able to help the Haitian people, I am struck hard at how far removed Haitian society is from our own high-tech world.
To the uninitiated, Haiti shares the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Undisputedly the poorest country in the Americas, Haiti's population of almost 11 million had their world rocked on Jan. 12, 2010, when a very strong earthquake laid waste to their side of the island. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, countless buildings were destroyed, and a fragile technical infrastructure suffered a beat-down that it could ill tolerate.
Prior to the quake, only an estimated 10% of the population had Internet access, and the current situation has probably reduced that by an order of magnitude. There is little doubt that my home network is probably more robust than what most Haitian towns have for their entire populations.
As I get ready to travel with others from the university where I work on a mission that seeks to assist with educational and technological rebuilding, I've spent a lot of hours researching what I'm about to get into. As I get to know Port-au-Prince through tools like Google Earth, I am having flashbacks of sort to some 25 years ago. Back then, I was a young airman in the U.S. Air Force in the Philippines, when Ferdinand Marcos was ousted, and I can't help but draw parallels. Visions of political unrest, health and safety concerns, and general anxiety about the unknown jump to mind whether I want to openly admit it or not. But once I give these gut fears their due respect, I find my mind back on the Haitian people, and what my group may be able to do to help once we understand the needs of our hosts.