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Information Poverty and Giving Thanks

By       Message Rory OConnor     Permalink
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A decade ago, I was in India, directing a documentary film about global poverty.

While shooting there, I met a mischievous, rolypoly researcher named Sugata Mitra, who was then working for NIIT, a billion dollar Indian high tech firm with headquarters in New Delhi.

"So, you're making a film about global poverty," Mitra said with a slight smile. "There are two kinds of poverty, you know."

"Do tell," I smiled back thinly, intrigued but also a bit annoyed, after months of research and weeks of shooting all over the world, to receive a lecture on the subject of my film.

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"Yes, there is material poverty, such as you are examining in your film," but there is also information poverty," Mitra suggested. "And from where I sit, it appears as if the developed world has been trying for decades -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to do something to solve the problem of material poverty.

"But I always thought that if we could instead do something about the problem of information poverty," he continued, "Then maybe poor people could solve the problem of material poverty all by themselves""

At that instant, I was struck by one of those rare, Eureka-like bolts of inspiration. The next film I made would have to be about this man, his theories and his work.

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And so it was. I'll spare you the parts of the story that reveal how much of the work of an independent filmmaker is akin to independent fundraising" suffice it to say that after nearly a year of begging, and the eventual intercession of a private family foundation whose board members included my former intern, production funding was secured and the story of Sugata Mitra and his "Hole in the Wall" experiment became its own film.

Working with my friend, the late and lamented Gil Rossellini, as co-director, we were first to tell the story of how Mitra embedded a high-speed computer in a wall separating his firm's headquarters from an adjacent slum" and his resultant discovery that the slum children could quickly teach themselves how to surf the net, read the news, and download games and music. We then documented how Mitra replicated the experiment in other locations, and how, stunningly, each time the results were similar: within hours, and without instruction, untutored children began browsing the Internet.

As Mitra's experiments showed, the ongoing digital information revolution has redefined poverty, making how much you know as important, if not more so, than how much you own. Could children, given only access to computers and the opportunity to play with them, really teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy with no instruction? His hole in the wall model, which pointed to one possible solution to the rich/poor gap known as the "digital divide," had the promise to lift millions out of an information underclass to which they had been consigned by accidents of birth and fate.

Thanks to Sugata Mitra's brilliance, the compelling story of the Hole in the Wall became a worldwide sensation, inspiring millions of people around the world, including Vikram Swarup the author of the novel Q & A, which eventually was turned into the Academy Award-winning feature film Slumdog Millionaire. Mitra now is a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, in the UK, where he continues to focus on "minimally invasive education." Meanwhile, his series of Ted Talks on "child-driven education" has become one of that series most popular downloads.

Now, ten years after, I'm pleased that the story of Sugata Mitra and his amazing street urchins is now freely available to all, just a click away, thanks to an amazing new multimedia content platform just launched by Link TV. Called ViewChange.org, it's a next-generation Web site featuring the most comprehensive and relevant multimedia information about global development issues and concerns. The site combines powerful videos and films with the latest semantic web technology, highlighting images, articles, blogs, and actions about efforts to eliminate hunger, poverty, and disease in the developing world.

Now you can watch and share the Hole in the Wall story along with other videos about progress in global development through the platform's innovative media player, link the work to a global audience,  and share with that audience great characters, stories, and information about global game-changers n a wide variety of fields.

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So please send your friends and followers to http://www.viewchange.org to watch videos like my film "The Hole in the Wall," to comment, and with one click, to share your thoughts through 306 different networks, from Facebook to Digg to Twitter.

This holiday season, let's get together, give thanks for our own blessings -- and then start changing the world, one story at a time.


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Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor writes the 'Media Is A Plural' blog, accessible at www.roryoconnor.org.

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