Technology in the North: vital and delicate

While a Nunavut company develops an app to help people learn, a tiny Alaskan town learns the true cost of “stupid”

A new app teaches Inuktitut using songs (Photo: Singuistics)

Ray Weaver

The Arctic is much like anywhere else on the planet when it comes to technology, but computer crashes and interruptions to internet access can be that much more frustrating and potentially dangerous when they happen in remote regions. Even more so when service comes crashing down due to the foolish actions of those that live in the area.

On the plus side, Singuistics, a free app, is helping people learn about Inuit culture and the Inuktitut language of northern Canada. Pinnguaq, the Nunavut-based company that developed the app, said users learn definitions and pronunciations of words through song.

“It’s really an introduction for people who want to understand Inuit culture and understand Inuit language,” Ryan Oliver, the head of Pinnguaq, told Canada’s CBC. “Just the fact that they’re able to sing and surround themselves with the language, I think it would have a lot of benefit for education at any level in Nunavut.”

Since being launched in mid-December, the free app has been downloaded not only in the North, but also in other parts of Canada, Germany, France and Australia.

“You can’t fix stupid”
Meanwhile, while those that download the app are enjoying a tiny perk of living in the modern world, a remote Alaskan town is dealing with losing its internet connection.

A New Year’s eve tradition of shooting off guns at midnight in the Alaska Native community of Tanana, located about 150 miles west of Fairbanks, has left the town’s residents off the grid.

One or more revellers with .410-gauge shotguns shot out one of the town’s main fibre-optic cable lines. The cable, which was strung about three metres above the ground, wound up with more than a dozen pellet holes in it, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Ralph Eller, who owns Yukon Telephone and Supervisions Cable TV, said it’s not clear if someone intentionally shot the cable or it if was an accident.

Either way, “You can’t fix stupid,” as he put it.

Eller expected the remote town to remain in internet darkness until parts could be delivered to repair the damaged cable. Repair costs were estimated to be $10,000 because the fibre-optic line needed to be spliced together, and that work was to take at least two days after the parts arrive.

Although a dozen recovered shotgun shells were turned over to Alaska State Police, investigators said it would be difficult to prove who shot out the town’s communication lifeline unless someone came forward.

Not all developments in Alaska are high-tech. Take Tanana, an Athabascan community with a population of roughly 250 where people know how to adjust to life’s little trials without an app or even the internet.

They do, however, know how to use YouTube. The below video shows how they transport vehicles in the summer from Manley Hot Springs to Tanana. The distance downriver from Manley is over 200 kilometres, and the journey takes two days.

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

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