I am stuck in Fallujah and hope to get out later today. In the meantime, I have been reading a book called “Wikinomics” about the changes that online collaboration and web 2.0. will create in society. (Wiki, BTW, is from the Hawaiian word for quick and a wiki is a form of organization and technology that allows users to create, edit and link information in non-hierarchical collaboration.) This knowledge will be useful in my next job but it is of less here – for now. Internet connectivity in Anbar is poor, but it is growing rapidly. We have made some grants to help with Internet hot spots and online newsletters (also available in paper). I think this will come much faster than we expect and I think Internet will be an important medium in W. Al Anbar before I pack up and go home.
Already many of our good contacts have email, although most do not check it often enough to make it reliable. During the Saddam time there was essentially no Internet out here and the insurgency slowed its early growth, but these kinds of things grow exponentially.
Internet makes great sense in a large and sparsely populated place like Anbar. It can be a way to communicate and a means for governments to better serve constituents. But it will remain an elite form of communication for some years to come. Our biggest challenge is not the technology, but the levels of literacy. Iraq used to be one of the most literate Arab counties, but Iraqis fell behind during the Saddam times. The literacy rate in Iraq is only around 74% and it is lower in a rural place like Anbar. We have some adult literacy programs, but this is a problem long in the making that will require solutions that may take a long time to be effective.
The most modern technology can hit the wall of an ancient problem. Literacy is one of the first technologies. It allows the transmission of information over time and distance. It is so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. Literature is a type of slow motion wiki (if that is not too much of an oxymoron). The Sumerians invented writing nearby about 5000 years ago. Pity it didn’t catch on better locally.