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An image of future knowledge January 21st, 2014 by

The master mechanic had a broad, intelligent face. His thick hands showed that he made a living working iron. He stood on his shop floor in Ixcán, in northern Guatemala, by the carcass of a rusty old tractor, dragged in from the sugar cane fields. The mechanic and his teenage assistants were rebuilding the wreck, even though they would have to make many of the parts themselves. Rural mechanics can be as creative and resourceful as the farmers they serve.

I asked if the mechanic had any diagrams of what the finished tractor would look like. One of the youngsters took a cell phone out of his pocket and displayed a photo of a gleaming new tractor. The master mechanic dismissed the picture. “I don’t need that,” he said, pointing to his head. “I know exactly what it will look like.”

But the young assistant had been so interested in his work that he had gone to an internet café and paid his own money to search the internet for that photo. After satisfying his curiosity he had the ability to download the image onto his phone. That was in 2011.

Six or seven years from now, youth that age will be the farmers and the small-town artisans, and they will be enriching their local knowledge and experience with digital information tools. They will demand more information and be able to do more with it than today’s smallholders and crafts people. One day villagers will download mechanical drawings, and perhaps videos on how to overhaul a tractor.

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