A Note from the Edge

We are posting today from the StarNet Internet outpost in the tiny town of Carhuaz, in the Andean valley known as the “Callejon de Huaylas”, in highland Peru. We are here to visit our sons, who are here because it is such a stunning display of natural and cultural beauty that 28 years ago we bought an undeveloped piece of land alongside a rushing mountain river, a 20-minute walk up the road out of town, into the higher reaches of the range.

And there are people up there. Hundreds of thousands of them in tiny villages and towns, no decent roads, or truck paths even, just trails, cargo by mule or donkey. Up there, just below the treeline, or even between the treeline and the snowline, people live pretty much like the have for thousands of years, simultaneously abandoned by and disdainful of the current regeime of Incas or Spaniards or “Peruvians” parading in the capital.

But the village of Carhuaz is right smackdab on the interface between the wired world and one of the few populated regions, together with certain isolated tributaries of the Amazon River system, nomadic tribes in the Sahara desert, the Himalayas and some pockets of sub-sahara Africa, are the last remaining areas which are not on the Grid. Have not yet been penetrated, for economic, cultural or political reasons, but the ubiquitous tendrils of the wired world.

In Carhuaz the TV’s get four channels.  Where we were here last year there was one publicly available computer on line in town, on a table in a corner of an animal feed store on the main drag.  Now there are two additional, multi-station cybers. There is phone service, a video rental place and three pharmacies.

Above town, where our kids are building, there is electricity, and municpal water.  Their TV only gets one channel (by some perverse twist, TNT, in Spanish until 10 pm and then in English), and although there is no conventional phone service, (a group of neighbors are trying to collect the $400 the phone company is asking to extend the phone lines that high out of town), the cell phone works fine off of a recently installed relay tower. If Carhauz is the interface, then our kids are the outermost epidermis of the electronic body of the wired world. One of the final cells.

Up the road into the mountains is another world. And it is decidedly not wired. Up there the old gods still reign, there are no phones, no TV signals reach, there is no Internet. People survive, somehow, whithout Slashdot! Not just the pace and accoutrements of life are different, but the whole texture of perception is different. Someone like the Dowbrigade, who has mostly studied these people in books, and microfiche dissertations, with but a few brief excursions, episodes, research visits to his credit, can hardly conceive of, let alone understand.

But we are happy here, on the Interface, observing a very slow-moving, almost balletic, but no less inextorable clash of cultures. The nature all around us is astounding, and its fruits fill our pantry. We will try to post a closer look at the actual lives of the crew soon.

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