In back alleys, street markets, and hidden workshops around the world, microentrepreneurs churn out new ideas and products to help them get by or improve the world around them. We could philosophize on this all day. But here in observed we ask our correspondents to say nothing. So for the next 10 pages, we invite you to take a long glimpse through the lenses of our far-flung contributors.
For the Communication installment of Observed, we meet a chalkboard blogger in Liberia, an interactive drone in London, and one of the thousands of vendors in Lagos who have enabled the rise of communication in emerging markets. We receive godly messages to stop pissing in India’s streets, send information out of one of the world’s most dangerous locations, and read some cross-cultural free speech in Cairo.
Though signs of improvement continue, lack of a consistent, functional government since 1991 has hampered Somalia’s development. This VSAT satellite ground station is one of three links providing Internet to the entire country.
Amid protests at the American Embassy over an anti-Islamic film, a sign reminds English viewers that freedom of expression is universal.
New Delhi, India
After futile campaigns to curb public urination, the gods were called on to send a cease and desist order. Deities, placed at stream-level in public places, make errant pissers think twice.
After Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Alfred E. Sirleaf—Monrovia’s blackboard blogger—broadcast this to his readers, many of whom he says can’t afford to buy local media.
Part doorbell, part freight elevator, “ring ropes” transfer messages from street to apartment in Yangon. Money, newspaper delivery, and food arrive with assigned tugs of the rope.
A Nigerian vendor displays the low-cost phones that led the communication revolution across Africa. Users have found ways to monitor market prices, transfer money, and hack the basic devices into car alarms and remote controls.
Repurposed from old parts, quadrocopter drones buzz a Dutch crowd. With a Wi-Fi network that can’t be snooped, participants share data via the revolutionary mobile hubs—which in turn causes the drones to glow and dance in the sky.
A textual interface channels payments for a chai vendor, while a more visual screen facilitates sharing among illiterate users.
One-liter do-it-yourself satellites float across the International Space Station’s 73-meter solar array. The CubeSat is a type of “picosatellite” used to collect academic, private, and government data.