A Web developer and a journalist walk into a juice bar. The book that they just published paints the city I grew up in, in stunning light.
If you’ve lived here, you’d know when to duck a ball flying in your direction from a raucous cricket match. (The clue is often a pair of Bata slippers making do for a wicket.) Or where to find isso vadas, or chinese rolls; where that bicycle-tube repair guy on Galle Road sits under a piece of plastic; or what time the knife sharpener and choon pan tuktukmight arrive. These ‘experts’ and entrepreneurs however, are easy to miss because they just blend into the cacophony that is Colombo. Sadly many of them are hidden in plain sight like faded wall posters. But no worries – Nazly Ahmed has them in his viewfinder. He pulls up on his motorbike and takes in the details with his trusty camera. Lucky us!
Colours of Colombo is a glimpse into that other side of Colombo, the lives lived in the shadow of the luxury apartment towers, and by unkempt beaches. It may be too small-scale a book to qualify for a coffee-table piece (which is my only beef with the collection. Visual storytelling like this ought to be seen in large format.) But the colours that pour out of it let us pay attention to those slices of life that are left out of tourist brochures. Who else would focus on a road sweeper in Mattakkuliya surrounded by grit, casting an ominous shadow? Or the tuktuk driver taking a nap like a cartoon strip framed against a giant piece of graffiti? Or the saravita seller’s serene, weatherbeaten face? These lead characters are part of the daily docudrama played out across the 15 zip codes of a city I once called home. Sadly, many of them are in transit, or worse, anonymous. Their names don’t roll in with the credits. Nazly (the photo-hobbyist and web developer) and Kris Thomas (the writer) have taken pains to put many names to faces, giving voice to the voiceless, a secondary, magnanimous accomplishment.
Reading this book made me wistfully attempt to recall those who’ve remained nameless in my childhood. (Your list is probably as big as mine.) The vedamahathaya down Havelock Road who once reset my dislocated elbow; the smiling lady outside St. Peter’s College who sold us ambarella achcharu through the iron gates. The tuktuk driver who religiously showed up on Sunday mornings to take my mother to church. The rickshaw man who transported my cousin and I to school and back. The kiri-karaya from Sagara Road. Their legacy is not found in my photo album. But they were itinerant actors who were part of a city drama never forgotten.
Nazly and Kris don’t just take us back in time. They freeze the frame. I was glad to see that they all but ignored the parts of Colombo that privileged folk –and Instagrammers – go after. The bars, the buffet tables, the coffee shops. Yes there are some waterfronts in shimmering light, but some beaches (like one in Bambalapitiya) are murky. Shanties stand out against a backdrop of affluence. The other waterfront (a once hyped floating market), they note, is abandoned.
By an unhappy coincidence the book comes out in a time when Sri Lanka is facing its biggest crisis. Colombo, where all the machinations of the political economy are worked out, is experiencing power cuts. A lighting effect –and irony –any photographer would not miss. We could be optimistic and seeColors of Colombo as a glimmer amid the virus of poor governance.
A few years ago I conducted a series of webinar-style workshops for the U.S. State Department, for content creators, educators, marketers and those in traditional and new media. The workshops were called “Passport to Digital Citizenship.”
I was convinced that citizen’s voices would be valuable, and –despite technological barriers and people who would try to keep them quiet– they could be heard.
Journalism has been forever changed — I’d argue for the better — thanks to the fact that people can interact with media organizations and share their opinions, personal stories, and photos and videos of news as it happens. This year’s nominated iReports are prime examples of how participatory storytelling can positively affect the way we cover and understand the news.
(“36 stories that prove citizen journalism matters.” By Katie Hawkins-Gaar, CNN | Wed April 3, 2013 )
When we talk of ‘participatory journalism’ we mean that ‘CitJos’ work alongside traditional media. They are not here as a replacement model, but to complement the changing media industry. Of the 100,000 citizen stories submitted to CNNiReport.com in 2012, they used 10,789 –having vetted them first.
I just interviewed the creator of a leading citizen journalist outfit in South Asia, and he stressed the importance of community guidelines, and careful design.
Citizen journalism, and the power of citizen voices is a big section in my book, Chat Republic.
It’s official, and I’m now ready to announce the title of my book, which is in its final stages.
It’s called Chat Republic.
I’ve been covering the intersection of technology and business; technology and culture for more than 18 years. More recently, I’ve focused on digital media and our social media-centric lives, and I wanted to put my ideas into perspective.
Chat Republic is more than a fictional country. It’s about the spaces you inhabit. Those online and offline communities you move in and out of: conference rooms, Google Circles, IM lists, Facebook, online forums. I think of it as a ‘country’ whose fluid borders take the shape of a giant, invisible speech bubble.
The conversations and opinions pouring in and out of our republic, in real-time, are what make our communities more civil, more vibrant. Our chats are certainly not friction-free! But absent these conversations we would be one dimensional citizens, won’t we?
As of today, I am planning to launch the book in two time zones, in June.
25 Chapters – Divided into 3 sections
Case Studies from the U.S. and Asia
Interviews with non-profits, tech companies, activists, chief execs, editors, citizen journalists, PR consultants, podcasters, government officials
It’s time to break some news. I am at the final stages of a book about the power of conversations.
While it does analyze why audiences are more engaged (the stuff I’ve covered as a technology columnist for six years), this is an attempt to peel back the layers of hype about social this and social that, and look at the operating system that lies at its core –human chatter.
As so many other ‘republics’ –Facebook and Pinterest, for instance– are being overrun by the masses, I have felt the need to look at why we can’t stop blabbing. The Republic of Chatter (a working title) also addresses another passion of mine, about the power of ordinary people to speak out, to rise above the chatter.