Jamaica in this age of unified information


Sunday, December 07, 2014

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ON any given day we observe our younger population developing crick necks as they sit tweeting, googling, IMing, posting, tagging, liking, blocking, downloading and uploading, editing, updating, gaming, Skyping, Face Timing, Instasizing, picstitching, flipgraming, tindering, transferring, trading, shopping, dating, studying, researching, learning and yes, still old-school texting on platforms we older folk don't even know about.

There's Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, Pintrest, Tinder, Viber, LinkedIn, Flickr, Google+, VK, Instagram, WhatsApp, iMessage, Twitter, Facebook, and Skype to name a few. In fact, this social network now represents the majority of our recordable communication.

To the sub-40 year olds in our country and the world, this is the reality. I will grant that many people over 40 also use some subset of this broad reach of information, but to the younger generation this is just like tying a shoelace, once you learn, you don't think about it, it just is.

For them, their social network profile is who they are. It is the school they attend, where they work, the social events they go to, who they are dating, who they are married to, who they broke up with, their profile picture, their mood in any given moment, their life philosophy, their beliefs, their loves, likes, and dislikes, and they have a clear understanding that in the absence of barriers information is just shared.

Anyone who has spent time around the average teenager or 20 or 30-something year-old would realise the weight and measure of a Facebook or Insta like, or lack thereof, to quote the phrase "u didn't like my pic!!!! Smh! KMT! "

In fact, we all accept there is a new language associated with this communication, a pic is a picture, ur is you're, lol is laugh out loud, smh is shake my head, kmt is kiss my teeth, and there's yolo -- you only live once. It's efficient, precise, constantly evolving and crosses language barriers.

Many a long-term, meaningful relationship has been terminated with a brief series of status updates, Instagram memes (according to Wikipedia an Internet meme (/_mi_m/ meem) is an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet.[1] ), or emoticons.

Many a bf (boyfriend) didn't even know it was over until a friend messaged him about her instapost or status update. While all of this may seem a curiosity, this is the language of now.

These various applications (apps) all try to integrate with each other so as to ensure there is a common thread occurring all through out the network. None seeks to stand alone or to be platform-specific as there is demonstrable weakness inherent in that position. You can tie your Facebook to your Twitter to your Instagram and post across apps. Despite being competing entities, they see the inherent value in joining up for greater appeal, usage and consistency of information, just as Apple joins up all its services under a single apple user ID. Maybe that's why Apple is now worth over US$650 billion, placing it equivalent to the economy of a country in the top 20 economies globally.

When you want to know more about Usain Bolt, you Google (now a verb) him, and the search engine, in an unbiased manner, without judgement, goes out and captures every public reference online to Usain Bolt worldwide. In fact, you don't even need to type Bolt, it provides a series of options based on Usain. 18,300,000 references pop up in .35 seconds. In a very short series of keystrokes, we have a clear picture, most of it valid, some of it questionable, of Usain Bolt.

Now, let's look at where we are nationally in this age of unified information. As it stands, as a Jamaican we have a Tax Registration Number (TRN), a National Insurance Card (NIS), a driver's licence, a passport, a national health card, a national identity card, and a student ID if we are students, and to have all of these we must have a birth certificate, in order to interact with the various State agencies that are essential to functioning effectively with the Government of Jamaica.

In some instances these IDs do use the TRN as its core identifier, but also each interacts with Government through an independent, discrete portal. It's also important to note that to acquire each one of these requires an independent verification process with each of the respective agencies. So to recap, the functioning adult living, learning and working in Jamaica can require as many as six or seven different IDs.

By any measure we have made complicated what should be simple, or have failed to simplify with technology what is cumbersome and archaic. The good news is that this represents an opportunity for a sea change in the way that we approach recognising our citizenry.

Technology affords us the ability to rethink and re-engineer our old ways of working through the lens of efficiency, not by overlaying and replicating the pre-existing manual processes. The greatest impediment to this can be summed up in the phrase, "but we've always done it that way", which is frequently said in Jamaica.

Technology is egalitarian in deriving outcomes. It doesn't carry with it prejudice, class, status or judgement. It is the great equaliser. Google doesn't decide that it doesn't like what an article says about Usain Bolt. It just reports the information without spin or inference. It's left to the individual to determine like or dislike through their own filter of knowledge and values. So what do we do to understand as a country that our life and the way we communicate and present information are no longer relevant and certainly will be obsolete in five years. Obsolescence presents a material danger to the development of Jamaica, as our State's relevance to its citizens will diminish to a degree that is untenable.

To change a system, two things must be done. First, we must identify the universal characteristics that are applicable to all participants. Second is to identify and define what outcome are we seeking to achieve. In the first case it is that we are Jamaican, and in the context of accessing of education, care and voting there is a further measure of being an adult or a minor, and in the case of voting, your registered address at birth.

Outside of this, the system should not care if you are man or woman, short or tall, uptown or downtown, PNP or JLP, or town or county. All those characteristics are measures that can be used to impose discriminatory practices on people. By way of example the right to vote is not a reward distributed to those who are loyal to one party or another. It is the inalienable right of a Jamaican who is over 18 years of age and should be automatically "activated" without interaction with or commentary from any individual, organisation, State agency or political party at the point at which these criteria are fulfilled.

The only thing the system needs to do is verify that this person, having been a part of the system leading up to age 18, is indeed 18 and a Jamaican. In terms of the exercise of this right, not the possession of it, the address of the citizen must remain that which is issued at birth. If a change of address occurs, it is incumbent on the citizen to request this and it will be applied system-wide, so all interaction with any Government agency will occur based on the new address.

The number can only have one physical address. To propose anything to the contrary would be actively participating in trampling on the rights and privileges afforded to an adult Jamaican.

Many would dismiss this position as being simplistic, however, this is the first step to understanding why apathy reigns in the sub-40 generation. This generation simply cannot understand why access to something that is their right is not automatic. Why is it that in a national health fund there is a process for application when the qualifier is that you are Jamaican in Jamaica at the time you need access to the service?

The argument will be presented that in a very few instances there is a need to establish proficiency to gain access to something that is a privilege, not an inalienable right. The granting of a driver's licence, for example, is a privilege awarded based upon demonstrable proficiency in driving. Although in Jamaica today that is a highly questionable premise.

But back to the basics. One of the principal obligations of government, based on the charter of rights in Jamaica is that the State has an obligation to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms.

If we hold that the State is obligated to ensure inalienable rights, then it is also obligated to create and promote an environment where these rights are unassailable. So in the 21st Century context of the egalitarian social network environment, these rights are not contingent upon anything other than the fundamental characteristics described. That is the philosophy. Now let's consider the practical.

We have sought to establish that the prerequisites are being Jamaican, and in some cases additionally some age marker. These are the prequalifiers. So the first step is to look at the origination point of that bit of information.

For the purposes of the national ID it is the Registrar General's Department where the record of your birth, address and ultimately death originates. So logically it would hold that the RG Department would be the originator of the identification mechanism or marker (number) that uniquely identifies you as Patrick Casserly, Jamaican, Born: Month Day Year, Address.

So in our world of prequalifiers I have the following rights that must be recognised. Apart from the fundamental human rights we all have, I have the right to: attend an educational institution as of age four, the right to vote as of age 18, the right to a passport, the right to national insurance access, national health access, and the obligation to pay taxes, as none of these require proof of proficiency.

So technically, an ID number generated at birth would seek to capture that I'm Jamaican, born on a particular date at a particular place, and that would be the foundation of all State interaction with me as an individual.

So go back to your Facebook page. It establishes "born on" in the context of Facebook. Facebook, as a nation of 900 million people, recognises you the day you activate your Facebook account and presents your history to date since activation as you have chosen to interact with it.

So how does activation occur with our nation? It is the single event of being born in Jamaica on a particular date to a particular place. This original data cannot be changed, removed or altered and as such interaction/events will occur automatically based on it.

So as of age four you have the right and the State has the obligation to ensure that you are attending school. Not an event triggered by an application but one the State monitors and defends. Under this system, every educational organisation in Jamaica, by law, would be required to enter every unique ID of every child in attendance at that institution.

The Ministry of Education and the RG Department would automatically validate that every child between the ages of four and 16 is attending school. For any child who does not show up on the register, an explanation would be sought and one must be proffered. The State must seek to defend their right to an education by acting to correct whatever described impediment to the fulfillment of the child's rights exists.

This is not a new concept, as it exists and is aggressively employed in many "advanced" countries that we would seek to emulate. This example serves to demonstrate that the creation of a single number allows for the State to ensure that fundamental rights are defended, in other words, to do its job.

By a short series of keystrokes I can access 18.3 million bits of information about Usain Bolt. But today, the Jamaican State cannot say with any acceptable degree of accuracy (99.99 per cent or above) how many children ages four to 16 are actively attending school and where they are without undertaking a monumental inquiry of the many and varied systems that might give a clue as to their whereabouts.

The technology exists, a new path is clear and the infrastructure to implement it is less costly than maintaining six or seven or eight different platforms seeking to achieve the same objective in their respective silos. To improve the environment the fundamental premises applicable to all must form the basis for all State interaction with the citizenry.

The universality of the number carries in it its own inherent protections as the system would not care that the child is poor or rich, rural or urban, Adventist or Anglican. Its only concern is that he or she is four years old and has an inalienable right to an education. This small change, despite the barriers that will be established by those who would seek to preserve the status quo, must not be denied.

Those of the information age have probably lost interest in this long-winded discourse by this stage (Tru Dat!), but they are not the necessary audience. Those of us who would stand in the way of progress by preserving soon-to-be-dead systems of managing information are the audience.

Selah. Wiki it, for definition.

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