Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 20, 2003
Crank your way to global power
Hand powered info technologies give people power
By SUZANNE ELSTON
I received the most interesting present from my husband Brian. As I unwrapped it, he said, "Every now and then you should have a gift that is going to change the world."
When I opened it, I immediately understood what he meant. The gift was a Grundig crank radio.
To provide power to the radio you simply wind the crank on the side of the radio 60 times to charge the small batteries inside. The radio is reasonably priced, small and lightweight, and yet it provides good reception on AM, FM and SW radio bands. It even has a little built-in spotlight.
What makes the radio so revolutionary is that it provides instant access to information virtually anywhere in the world without the constraints of electricity grids or power plants or the need to carry a pocketful of batteries. Its compact size (approximately 15 cms. by 15 cms. by five cms.), and weight (280 grams) means it can easily be carried anywhere.
In a world where information is considered to be our most valued commodity, the radio dissolves the economic, technological and political barriers to accessing that information.
I was considering the potential impact this simple little radio could have on the world when Brian added, "What's really exciting is that they're currently working with the same technology to build a crank lap-top computer. Now that would cause a revolution!"
He's right. The potential impact of all of this is quite staggering. In the last 20 years, the division between rich and poor hasn't simply been about who has money and who does not. Access to information technology has been a great dividing line. What these new portable information tools provide is instant access to that information.
These technologies also have the potential to help preserve and protect cultures, languages and even the environment.
To date, the primary language of the Internet has been English. There are some social anthropologists and linguists who believe that the proliferation of the web will be the final death knell of many obscure languages and cultures because of this English language domination. But this fear was based on the assumption Internet sites are largely being developed by those with access to Internet technology - i.e. computers and an electrical grid to plug them in to and news access via the television or radio.
But what if using these portable technologies, smaller, isolated communities could use their remoteness to promote their language and culture and communicate with other related communities?
What if we could understand the fragility of some endangered environments without having to actually go there? What if portable information technology meant that societies had to rely less on an established infrastructure of power grids, phone lines and office buildings? This is truly the stuff that revolutions are made of. I am reminded of a conversation that I had 10 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio. I was standing between two booths at the Global Forum - sort of an international environmental flea market. On one side was the World Bank tent, offering to loan tens of millions of dollars to developing countries to enable them to build, among other things, power plants and the grid required to distribute electricity.
On the other side was a small booth that was selling solar cookers. Solar cookers are collapsible cardboard boxes, lined in tinfoil with a piece of glass mounted in the lid. In hot sunny countries, these solar cookers can generate enough heat to safely cook a chicken in several hours without the need for power plants, grids, stoves and an outlet to plug the stoves into - all for about $1.48.
While it's understood that resources will have to be spent on developing infrastructure for communications and distribution in order to support portable technologies, those resources can be spent efficiently and directly on creative sources, rather than "last mile" distribution, often the most costly and challenging systems to put in place.
What solar cookers and hand crank radios and portable computers could do is help developing countries leapfrog into the 21st century, while minimizing the costly infrastructure and environmental havoc that we have created.
Nomadic tribes could potentially preserve their lifestyles and their language and still have the benefit of technologies to empower their lives. That's revolutionary.
For more information about the Grundig FR-200 crank radio, visit www.kador.com/radio.htm.
Grundig is located at http://www.grundig.com.
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