African countries are trying to “cheat history,” as one senior UN official I met put it. Barely literate people in the poorest villages, places where there are no schools and the life expectancy is under 50 due to lack of health infrastructure, use mobile phones to listen to the radio, send money, buy and sell stuff, and even to study. When we flash polled a roomful of eighty nursing students in rural Sierra Leone, everyone’s hand went up when we asked who owned a phone and had heard of social networking. Their lives are a mashup: Facebook Zero meets the Middle Ages.
– Leila Chirayath Janah

The Women’s Technology Delegation, set up by the US State Department, travels through Liberia and Sierra Leone.

110420 TechCrunch

With help from Facebook and Google, David Cameron wants east London to take on Silicon Valley. But his top-down approach misses the point, says Joe White, CEO of London-based web design service Moonfruit:

"If we need more grass roots, then large tech corporate sponsors are not the answer. Supporting local entrepreneurs who can inspire and support each other is the answer. Create more seed startups, allow more failures, start again then eventually you’ll have enough experienced, inspirational entrepreneurs to drive the startup community, and even start to drive the investment community."

110206 Tech startup stars: Jemima Kiss: Observer

Africa’s mobile phone kiosks: tech hubs set to rival Silicon Valley?

Mobile phone kiosk

Photo Credit: Ken Banks,

In the West, there’s an app for everything. In Africa, so goes the latest business/development mantra, there’s the mobile phone kiosk. The noise around Africa’s diy mobile phone culture sometimes sounds like a faint repeat of the dotcom hype from 1990s San Francisco.

However, Africa’s kiosks are for real: in the last decade or so, mobile phone kiosks have appeared everywhere, on every African city street corner.

They add up to entrepreneurial ecosystems buzzing with innovative goods and services, claim the business pundits. It’s an MBA case study scrawled across an entire continent.

Your phone doesn’t take multiple sim cards? Not a problem. African kiosk hackers are able to re-engineer your phone so that two cards can fit into one sim slot. Need instructions for the phone you bought up country? Don’t worry. Chances are that the kiosk’s clever geeks can download and print off the manual for you.

Mobile phone engineer

Photo Credit: Ken Banks,

It’s innovation born out of necessity, suggests Ken Banks, founder of, the non-profit behind FrontlineSMS, free text-messaging software for Africa-based NGOs.

“Some of the most exciting innovations happen in resource constrained environments,” says Banks.

“Anyone who travels around African countries will see people making things out of the most unlikely components and cobbling odd scraps together because really they have no other choice.”

What’s happening at the level of the street kiosks is a distant echo of the noise around African communication globally. Over the last decade, the international community has gradually turned up the volume on the idea of jumpstarting Africa’s economy via technology.

Rather than sending aid money into Africa, big business, development economists and NGOs and international institutions like the UN and the World Bank hope to encourage African development at home, from the phone kiosks up.

Celebrating innovation, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in a speech at the start of 2010 that new technologies meant that “billions of people” were about to “leapfrog into the 21st century after missing out on 20th-century breakthroughs”.


Africa’s leapfrogging is a three-stage tech work in progress. First, there’s the external scaffolding.

The 2000s saw the push to provide the big infrastructure for Africa’s digital revolution. Gradually, the governments and then the corporations installed the phone masts and then the undersea cables. In the last year, large parts of Africa have finally become wired, linked via fibre optic to the global internet.


The second stage is the internal wiring. The hope, in boardrooms in the City of London, in lecture theatres in Ivy League schools, is that the introduction of new technology, like mobile phones and the services associated with them, leads to a surge in African development.

The great Kenyan mobile phone success story has been M-Pesa, the hugely popular mobile money transfer service. In 2009, nearly half of all Kenyan cash transfers were by mobile phone.

Sign up with an M-Pesa agent to buy digital cash. Send the cash off by SMS to any mobile phone user in Kenya. They can swap the digital for real shillings by visiting their local M-Pesa agent.

Around 10 million customers, around 40 percent of the population, use M-Pesa. According to Safaricom, the Kenyan mobile phone provider running the service for Vodophone, the mobile service transferred the equivalent of 20 percent of Kenya’s GDP in 2010.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that IBM’s Bruno Di Leo sees Africa as the “next major emerging growth market”.

Big Blue is providing the computing power for an upgrade to the mobile phone network operated by Zain Africa in 16 sub-Saharan African nations. It’s spending a cool $1.5 billion in Africa over the next ten years.

Zain Africa itself was bought up in June by India’s largest mobile phone company Bharti Airtel for a whopping $9 billion.

Kenyan mobile phone customers couldn’t be happier. There’s the better service. And, keen to get a bigger slice of the Kenyan market, Zain has cut its charges in half since the late summer.

In the current price war, other mobile phone operators have been forced to follow Zain’s example, cutting call charges in some cases by up to 75 percent. Meanwhile, Orange is giving away handsets to anyone buying $13 worth of airtime.

However, it’s not the handsets which matter, not in the long run. As M-Pesa demonstrates, the way in which mobile phones give real benefit to ordinary Africans is via the services they carry.

Farmers with mobile phones can find out market prices. Doctors can send healthcare information to nurses. Activists can keep tabs on election results.

Mobile phone users

Photo Credit: Ken Banks,

Economist and UN Special Advisor Jeffrey Sachs says that the digital revolution is putting “wind in the sails of development”.

The mobile web

The third stage in Africa’s great leap forward is universal access to broadband internet. With industry insiders expecting the announcement of cheaper smartphones aimed at the African market, the CEO of Opera, one of the leading mobile browser developers, says that the mobile web could amount to a “turning point” for Africa.

Jon von Tetzchner told South African tech journalists recently that Africa’s enthusiasm for mobile phones and services shows the continent is “jumping over years of tech development”.

He continued: “But the most important thing with all this development is that it’s easier to build things up by yourself. There is a great opportunity for Africans to build services locally and sell them locally.”

Key Facts

The rise in the number of Africans owning mobile phones has been incredible.

In 2000, 16 million Africans subscribed to mobile phones; by 2008, the number had gone up to 376 million – that’s a third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa.

However, it’s unlikely that mobile phone ownership in Africa is as widespread as this. Some people own more than one phone.

For the majority of Africans, phones remain an expensive luxury.

A cheap mobile phone in Kenya costs half the average monthly income.

Which explains the brisk trade around streetside mobile phone kiosks.

Key Trends

Fine tuning the platforms on which services like M-Pesa run, the big tech companies have made a point of tuning in to potential customers.

One method has been to send anthropologists into rural villages to find out how people live and what they need and want from new technology.

Relayed back to the design teams in Helsinki or London or San Francisco, the surveys have resulted in phones designed specifically for rural Africans.

Nokia has entry-level phones for the African market which use icons instead of text cues – not all of its customers can read and write.

PIN-protected multiple address books ensure privacy – unlike Europeans or Americans, Africans often share their mobile phones.

A version of this appears in the November issue of Bspirit, the Brussels Airlines magazine.

Your privacy online? Who cares about it? Google CEO Eric Schmidt, that’s who:

Those concerns are real – I’m not trying to move away from them. The fact of the matter is that if you’re online all the time, computers are generating a lot of information about you. This is not a Google decision, this is a societal decision. In Britain, you all allow yourselves to be photographed on every street corner. Where are the riots?

100701 You can trust us: Shane Richmond: Daily Telegraph

With the arrival of broadband, sub-Saharan Africa’s tech entrepreneurs are on the verge of take off. Question is: to where?

Computer Cafe, Nairobi, Kenya

Photo Credit: White African

In Buea, southern Cameroon, the tech boys are pulling an all-nighter. Mambe Nanje Churchill’s fingers go hurtling across the keyboard. With his 20-year-old junior looking on, the 24-year-old self-taught veteran of the local cyber café scene deftly reworks a website banner.

It ain’t rocket science, but it pays.

Popular with students at the town’s university, the 60 or so cafés straggling along the streets on the green slopes beneath Mount Cameroon have become informal centres for incubating tech entrepreneurs.

The cafés provide a testing ground for novice techies. Regulars can pick up the basic tech skills needed to become front-of-house cyber attendants. Those sharpest at dealing with customers’ queries go on to become café managers. Those geeking out to the hardware become the network trouble-shooters. And the brightest and the best, those with an eye on the big dollar rewards, on emulating Silicon Valley, convert their tech know how into ambitious business plans.

At $100 a pop, Churchill’s Afrovision Group designs, hosts and manages websites across Cameroon and Africa. His five-strong team of young software developers has plans to build an African social media platform.

“Africans like the idea of community, knowing about each other, talking about each other,” Churchill explains. “The collaborative net, Web 2.0, fits well into our culture.”

Wiring up a continent

Churchill’s big problem is that this social capital needs a nudge to go liquid, to go online. He needs customers eyeballing adverts on Afrovision’s websites. But the cafés charge customers around 80 US cents per hour. That’s expensive for Cameroon; the average income is just $2,300 per year. As a result, the average student can only afford to go online for around four hours a week.

How to make broadband affordable for ordinary Africans? It’s becoming Africa’s key development question. How best to create the tech market to support entrepreneurs like Churchill? To support the big tech corporations of Silicon Valley?

The answer – by thinking big: a multi-million dollar international race to wire up the continent to the Internet via tens of thousands of kilometres of undersea fibre-optic strands.

Africa used to be one of the least connected parts of the world. Accessing the Internet depended on expensive and unreliable satellite connections.

Overcoming technical and political obstacles, international financial institutions like the World Bank and then the big global telecom companies set out plans for networks of undersea cables stretching across the oceans. They started building the tech infrastructure needed to bring Africa’s billion consumers and producers to market.

The number of cables serving Africa has shot up from none to seven over the last year and a half – with four rivals snaking over from Europe and the Mediterranean in the past six months alone. By 2012, Africa should have 12 undersea cables.

Brian Herlihy, heading the consortium of Africa states and telecom companies responsible for laying down the $600 million Seacom cable, has predicted that the cables will lead to an “African technological revolution”.

With broadband prices set to crash, the number of broadband users in Africa could increase from 2.5 million to 24 million users by 2011, according to Delta Partners, an investment firm for media and technology in the Middle East and Africa.

And then a boom time for African entrepreneurs like Churchill?

Open for sale

Russell Southwood, editor of the Balancing Act African telecoms newsletter, says that as broadband becomes ubiquitous, the key to Africa’s tech future will increasingly turn on making the new commodity pay for itself.

If the cash isn’t coming in from high broadband prices, the only other way is by charging for services and applications. The key question will become: what’s Africa offer to the Internet?

“Whereas it’s relatively easy for Europe to go ‘post-industrial’ and to make use of what you might describe as thinkwork, services of various kinds, adding value to fashion and design, it’s much more difficult to see how Africa will make those things work for it,” says Southwood.

“But I can’t believe that there won’t be a very large African fashion industry within ten years. I can’t believe that the film and music that come out of the continent won’t have a much larger global presence than it does thus far.”

Global call centre

But there’s a way to go yet. Africa’s first broadband-fuelled foray into the global e-market relies less on thinkwork, more on gruntwork. Africa is setting itself up as an outsourcing destination.

In Nairobi, Kenya, Lucy Mwatibo, director and founder of Ken-Tech Data, which specialises in providing foreign companies with call centres and outsourcing services, says her business has grown amazingly because of broadband.

Three years ago, Mwatibo paid $360 a month for a 128 kilobits per second connection. Internet telephony was impossible. Even data transfer made business difficult, says the 29-year-old Information Technology graduate.

“Sometimes the net would just cut out. At the best of times, the connection was up and down and very slow. And so business suffered. Sometimes you wanted to send something to a client, but had to wait for two or three hours for the net to come back up.”

Since the fibre-optic cables first switched on, as well as getting an Internet that works, Mwatibo’s broadband costs have gone down dramatically – from $3,000 per megabit to around $300.

As a result, Ken-Tech Data has new Indian investors; the number of employees has grown from 10 to 81. Mwatibo is taking on local university students to fill the company’s new purpose-built 150-seat call centre.

Future opportunities

With broadband in place, expect African outsourcing to become increasingly important – at least for those states with the human capital needed for competition at a global level. The Kenyan government expects to see the number of its citizens working on subcontracts for foreign companies increase from 8,000 to 120,000 by 2020.

Other African states hope to follow Kenya’s example. Ghana wants to create 40,000 jobs in the outsourcing sector by 2015. Rwanda is hoping to become a regional telecoms hub, a “Singapore of the Great Lakes”.

But Africa has some catching up to do. Two million Indians already work in outsourcing; India controls some 65 percent of the sector. African states need to ramp up their tech and business infrastructures, improve general education levels and enhance overseas links with potential US and UK and/or French customers.

In any case, outsourcing isn’t the stuff of Silicon Valley dreams. Critics argue that Africa’s brightest and best can do better than play a bit part in the global factory. Innovation is hardly going to happen in a call centre. Don’t Africa’s cyber cafés – as demonstrated by Churchill – represent the kind of creative environment where good ideas happen? Isn’t that where Africa’s Web 2.0 will be unleashed?

But perhaps better the safety of outsourcing to the relative anarchy of the cyber cafés? According to some US security analysts, the cafés pose a deadly threat to the rest of the world. Africa’s old and unpatched computers are likely to fall victim to viruses: its zombie computers, lashed together into vast botnets, under the control of transnational organised crime syndicates, will be the conduit for global cybercrime on an unprecedented scale.

Scaremongering? While agreeing that cybercrime is a growing problem, Ethan Zuckerman, fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the University of Harvard, fumes at the “alarmist speculation” over African cyber cafés:

“Yes, more internet users mean more unpatched computers… but we’ve got a massive wave of zombie machines coming online in every corner of the world. There are vastly more infected Chinese computers – and probably more infected American computers – than there are total machines in sub-Saharan Africa at present.”

From cyber cafés to call centres and perhaps to crime hubs – but at least sub-Saharan Africa finally has a tech future.

Southwood’s take is that major improvements always have consequences. He points out: “The possibility that African cybercrime will become the thing to worry about is a sign of Africa’s success, not a sign of failure.”

A version of this appears in the July issue of Bspirit, the Brussels Airlines magazine.

Zap those economic blues. Seven shiny tech tips from CeBIT 09


The global economic crash getting you down? Take the talking cure.

The population of Hanover in northern Germany pretty much doubles once a year when around 500,000 computer and IT industry movers and shakers from all over the world click over to CeBIT, the world’s biggest technology expo.

With thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of product launches and demonstrations, CeBit 09 (3-8 March) is about trying out new technologies and thinking around new trends.

It’s also about gossiping and partying and getting the face-to-face contact that the stutter of the video conference just can’t match.

And, naturally, these days, it’s about analysing the global economy and what its collapse means for tech business.

Tip 1: “No Problemo”

Adding some Hollywood glitz to CeBIT 09’s launch today, bodybuilder, actor and Governor of California Arnold Schwarzeneger said that the best businesses would view the global economic crisis as a challenge.

You can use a crisis as an opportunity to shine, an opportunity to leap past your competitors who are taking it maybe easy and taking the easy way out.

That’s what winners do. Losers whine, but winners move forward in a strong and powerful way.

Why Arnie? He’s representing California at CeBIT. With the eighth largest economy in the world, California is considered big enough to be CeBIT 09’s partner “country”. Plenty of tech muscle there, then.

The Governor of California shares a tweet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Tip 2: Silicon Dragon

While their near economic future may seem grim, help may be at hand for new tech start-ups.

True, bank credit is crunched. But venture capitalists are plush with funds gathered from institutional and major private investors. They remember the tech innovations which followed the end of the dotcom boom.

Emerging from his CeBIT den, Frank Böhnke, General Partner at Wellington Partners, which specialises in investing in young European tech, internet and digital media companies, says that he’s on the lookout for good ideas.

The current climate couldn’t be better for start-ups: "A new company can develop in peace and quiet during an economic downturn."

Tip 3: Theft Bytes

Take care of your tech security and save what money you’ve got left.

You’ve probably been robbed at clickpoint and you didn’t even know it.

There’s "phishing": the number of people who unwittingly gave passwords details to online con artists went up by 25 per cent in 2007, according to CeBIT research.

And "pharming": a recent black-hat hacker technique is to guide the unwary user to a counterfeit website.

And "zombies": marshalled into "botnets" to carry out computer attacks, millions of home and office computers work for criminal gangs without their owners’ knowledge.

Confused? Worried? Visit CeBIT 09’s Security World hall to see the latest anti-hacker technology as well as alarm, video surveillance and biometric systems.

Tip 4: Hotting Up

Save energy. CeBIT 08’s "Green Village" blossoms into a "Green IT World" this year, spreading its shoots into a new hall full of environmentally friendly tech products.

According to CeBIT research, half of German shoppers would happily pay extra for energy-efficient high-tech devices. Some ten per cent wouldn’t mind paying up to 20 per cent more.

At CeBIT 08, Microsoft Chief Exec Steve Ballmer launched an energy management system designed for domestic users.

This CeBIT, the German Minister of the Environment Sigmar Gabriel explains how the interest in energy efficiency is likely to develop into one of the IT industry’s most important new markets.

Tip 5: Ghost Rider

Save even more energy. Get behind the wheel of one of CeBIT’s energy-saving electric cars, press down the accelerator and take a snooze.

Scanning the road with stereo cameras, radar sensors and a GPS sat-nav, the car’s computer analyses data so that the chauffeur bots doing the driving can avoid any black ice, traffic snarl-ups or Jeremy Clarksons ahead.

For more extreme va-va-vroom still, visit the track outside the CeBIT conference centre where high-speed heavy trucks slalom past obstacles and roar around bends – again, minus human drivers.

To get the robo car specs, quiz the boffins in the CeBIT cars, transport and navigation hall.

Tip 6: Web + Society = ?

CeBit Werner Vogels Amazon

CeBIT 09: Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer, Amazon

Take a good look at yourself.

Come to CeBIT to see the future; they give you a mirror.

Tagging your digital data? Posting it online to friends, family, business colleagues, to the entire Internet? You’re living in Society 2.0: the "Webciety".

As well as an area devoted to cracking the jargon – Enterprise 2.0, Open Source, blogs, wikis, web TV, social networks, user generated content and so geekily on, CeBIT 09 brings together top industry speakers to explore what’s going to happen when everyone is potentially connected to everyone else. New markets, new opportunities, everyone hopes.

Elite geeks taking part include: Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer,; Marco Boerries, Executive VP Connected Life Division, Yahoo!; Reid Hoffman, Founder, LinkedIn; Stewart Butterfield, Co-Founder, Flickr.

Tip 7: Wall To Wall

Finally, look beyond the economic doom and gloom. Get things into perspective.

Stacked high with glittering gizmos, CeBIT has whole halls dedicated to personal mobile players and interactive entertainment.

One shiny bargain likely to make a big splash is a smart phone which doubles as a pocket-sized big screen TV.

Launching at CeBIT 09, Logic’s Logic Bolt looks like a chunky mobile phone. But tap the 2.4 inch touch screen and a built-in projector turns any wall into a giant screen. Displays range in size from 36 to 64 inches.

As well as movies, the Logic Bolt can project video from your Xbox or Nintendo Wii. With Bluetooth, a three-megapixel camera and the ability to read MS Office documents, the Windows Mobile GSM phone is expected to retail for around $100.

As cool, shiny, amazing tech gets cheaper, the consumer market is likely to grow. Fingers crossed.

Vital Stats

CeBIT 09 takes place between 3 and 8 March 2009 at the Hannover Messe Exhibition Grounds, Hanover, Germany.

A full ticket booked in advance is 71 Euros (£64); a day ticket, 33 Euros (£30).

See CeBIT for further details.

A version of this appears in the March 2009 issue of BMI Voyager.

Linz, a sleepy provincial Austrian town? Cuckoo clocks and the sound of music? Where Hitler went to school with Wittgenstein ? Never mind the cobblestones. As the venue for Ars Electronica , one of the biggest digital arts festivals in the world, Linz is heaven for geeks right now, is overclocking with tech-driven spectacle.


Back in the 20th Century, when Vienna marked the cutting edge of things, Austrian sophisticates cracked that Linz rhymed with province. Say “province” in an Austrian accent and it ends in “z”. Just like Linz. Geddit? Dear pretty, provincial Linz. No bright lights, no big city: what Linz offered was small-town zzzz.

Wander over to Linz’s main square, the Hauptplatz, a virtual chocolate-box cover, one of the largest squares in central Europe, elegantly lined with pastel coloured Renaissance buildings.

Fast forward past the plaques commemorating visits by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, past the imposing column, past the friendly, back-slapping locals lapping up beer and torte, the trams trundling by, the cobblestoned backstreets winding off towards pubs and cafés in sleepy squares, towards the nearby Danube. The same as it ever was: Linz, a typically Austrian town with a big heart?

Keep that fast-forward button pressed right down. Not only is it about to become the EU’s European Capital of Culture 2009, but every September, beamed up to the holodeck, fragged into a billion pixels, Linz takes a turn for a tech vision of the future.

Knocking away the town’s provincial facade to reveal the wiring underneath, firing enough white light to leave the snootiest Viennese in a whirl, Ars Electronica spills out of Linz’s art mile, the stretch of award-winning galleries and museums down by the river, and deposits culture hackers, media theorists, digital nomads from all over the world, all over the place.

Linz, provincial? Actually, until next Monday at least, Ars Electronica turns Linz into an out-of-this-world tech party – perfect for lab rats, gadget freaks and policy wonks needing to know what’s next.

Jolted into life by academics and avant-garde musicians, Ars Electronica’s goal since 1979 and the first festival has been the “development of tomorrow”.

Above computer generated anime and flashing, twirling, bleeding-edge, bleeding eye art installations, the thump of industrial techno, Ars Electronica’s geek elites delight in tech chatter – convergence, sousveillance, locative, Web 2.0: the latest buzzwords bounce around its programme of debates.

Each year, the festival tackles a different theme. In 2007, it was privacy. This year’s theme is intellectual property: what happens to a culture in which culture can be reduced to ones and zeroes and so copied and shared in just a couple of clicks to the power of – how many friends do you have in your Facebook profile?

According to Joi Ito, venture capitalist, CEO of Creative Commons and the curator of Ars Electronica 2008’s symposium, A New Cultural Economy, the Internet has lowered the cost of communication to such an extent that the legal system governing the business of creativity is being "pushed to its limits". It can’t keep up with a new gift economy based on sharing. Change on an unprecedented scale follows from this. Economics, business, organisations, politics: all require a major upgrade.

Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler kicks off the symposium on Friday with Beyond the Firm, a panel discussion examining what he describes as a new mode of production, "commons-based peer production". Leaving aside the corporations, the "people formerly known as the audience ", as Jay Rosen puts it, are increasingly coming together in non-profit groups to organise their immaterial labour: that’s you, me and Auntie Edna scratching our heads and setting up collaborative blogs, editing Wikipedia, adding public domain texts to Project Gutenberg.

Humboldt University of Berlin professor Thomas Macho leads a discussion later on Friday, Beyond Mass Media, on the tensions between this new participatory media and traditional business. At what point does a "fan" become a "pirate"?

Duke University professor and chair of Creative Commons James Boyle leads a discussion on Saturday, Beyond Professionals, on the demise of the expert and the rise of the amateur.

Joi Ito leads a discussion later on Saturday, Beyond Government, on the evolution of "subjects" into a semi-conscious public sphere capable of challenging the establishment.

Beyond highfalutin? Top-down? Elitist? Ars Electronica’s art practice makes perfect sense, sort of, out of the panellists’ talk. Escaping out of its computer screens, its art installations and events punch pretty abstract ideas into Linz’s pretty reality.

By seeing the effect their work has on ordinary visitors, tech artists and academics can get a better appreciation of how culture and technology fit together, says Ars Electronica’s Christopher Ruckerbauer. It’s applied research.

"We get the technologists out of their ivory towers into a new space. We turn the whole town into a giant stage. And we let them run riot there.”

launchy-view-1220625757597 crLast year, a Linz square was filled with sand and turned into a copy of Sydney’s Bondi Beach. A copy of this square from within the online virtual world Second Life was projected onto giant screens. Lazing in virtual deckchairs, Second Life’s 3d figures, operated by users hunched over keyboards, perhaps thousands of miles away, in Sydney even, chatted with their "meatspace" neighbours.

A plane over the town snapped high-resolution photos of art designed by locals to be seen from the air, 4,424 of them – a portrait of a man by the side of a Linz house, hello mums mown across backyard lawns, roof-top smilies.

The Graffiti Research Lab projected huge luminous messages onto buildings. It threw magnetised LEDs at passing Hauptplatz trams and their startled passengers. Its neon declaration: "reclaim public space".


What’s created here is a third space, says Ruckerbauer: “The idea is to get to the point where art meets technology meets society.”

This year’s highlights include spectral shapes shot onto clouds by the Paris-based art and design partnership HeHe. Trained at the UK’s Royal College of Art, Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen use advanced laser technology to turn the town into a giant art factory.

The Reactable team from the Universitat Pompeu Fabrade in Barcelona, Spain, rock out on a "tangible" music table. It continually monitors the movement of objects on its surface and turns these into complex sound loops. Icelandic diva Björk played one on her last world tour.

German artist Julius von Bismarck’s Image Fulgurator is a camera in reverse. It projects images onto buildings just as unsuspecting tourists snap their photos. Later, checking their holiday pics, they see a subversive image or message and perhaps realise that photographic “reality” isn’t reliable; your camera can lie.

It’s culture, Jim, not always as we know it, but worth pursuing for what it says about technology and its relationship to society and business. Certainly, it punctures Vienna’s wordplay. Linz, provincial? Far from it.

– Listen to the symposium discussions as well as other festival debates via these Ars Electronica 2008 MP3 downloads .

Photo Credits: rubra, Ars Electronica Futurelab, Graffiti Research Lab.

A version of this appeared in the August 2008 Ryanair Magazine.

When in Rome, do as the New York Times tells you. A recent travel feature about Rome at Night comes attached with not only the usual multimedia map but an MP3 walking tour as well.

Great. Unless you happen to depend on the tourist dollar…

Riffing off a recent Wired item enthusing about a crowdsourced GPS tour of Namibia, Geoff Manaugh sees downsizing ahead for locals as tourists start turning up preloaded with everything (they think) they need to know about a place:

… You fly down to the Amazon to try ayahuasca, but you don’t hire any local shamans or native botanists because you’ve got everything you need to know already saved on a 300GB iPod – as if that might be the atomized fate of the West in general: desperately seeking visions, alone in the wild, surrounded by portable gadgetry.

“Your tradition is right here,” the tourist says, holding his Garmin GPS loaded with Traveler’s Africa version 8.02 over the heads of impoverished villagers. “I don’t need you anymore.”

BLDGBLOG: The Digital Replacement of the Natives

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert plan to return to TV on 7 January while their writers stay out on strike. Off air for two months, the latte-drinking (probably), liberal-leaning (certainly) presenters, funny men, princes of political satire etc say they would much rather return with their comrade writers — beyond this, words (as well as their principles, perhaps) fail them:

If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence.
NY Times 071221