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Revert to type: how Goa’s last typewriter repair shop defied the digital age | Global development

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In Goa’s capital, Panaji, on Rua São Tomé, not far from the main post office, is a shop that offers packaging services. For a small fee, they will wrap your parcel in a sheet of muslin sewn with precise stitches to protect its contents from being damaged in the post.

It started as a sideline to the main business of the store, but now it is the main earner for Luis Francisco Miguel de Abreu as he struggles to maintain one of the last typewriter repair shops in this Indian state.

Inside the shop, several typewriters sit in various states of repair, looking much like museum pieces. There is a Hermes, a Remington and a Godrej Prima, from the Indian manufacturer that was the last company in the world to make typewriters.

Luis Abreu, son of Domingos Abreu and the shop’s current owner.
‘As long as the main door is open, I will have to do it. I prefer to go till the end,’ says Luis Abreu, the shop’s owner. Photograph: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

Abreu, 78, sits in a chair surrounded by paperwork, spare parts and memories. His father, Domingos Abreu, was employed by the US typewriter manufacturer Remington Rand in Mumbai before he moved back to Goa and started his own servicing and repair firm in 1938.

“My older brother wanted to study engineering and there were no schools or colleges here, so he had to go to Portugal,” says Abreu. “You needed good marks and money. I could have also gone but I stayed back to study and help my father in the shop.”

When his father opened the shop, Goa was still controlled by Portugal, which colonised the territory in 1510 and held power until 1961. “We moved here, to this location, I think, in 1953,” says Abreu. “At that time there was nothing here. We had one muddy road here with horses and bullock carts. There was one restaurant selling rice, curry and vegetables, no fish.”

Today the state is a busy tourist desitnation, where there is a trendy restaurant or fish curry joint on every street and selfies being taken at every colourful doorway.

In December 1961, the last ship left Goa for those who wanted to return to Portugal after it was annexed by the Indian military and the state became part of the republic. “We got the news that the João de Lisboa [a Portuguese warship] had come and whoever wants to go [to Portugal] can go,” says Abreu. “I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to leave my establishment and my father.”

The shop, named Domingos Abreu after Abreu’s father, was the bustling go-to place for typewriter sales and repairs. “All the big mining companies – the Dempos, the Chowgules – the government departments, even the military: they all came here,” says Abreu, “But business has stopped now.”

Typewriters were once the backbone of India’s famed bureaucracy. From government offices to law courts, they were the essential symbol of modernisation in independent India.

Professional typists work on a roadside near the stock exchange in New Delhi, India. The country has thousands of professional typists, most working outside the country’s courts and government offices.
Professional typists work in a roadside office near the stock exchange in Delhi. The country has thousands of professional typists. Photograph: Bernat Armangué/AP

Typing and shorthand schools churned out thousands of graduates ready to take on secretarial work. Some of these still exist in rural areas, teaching shorthand along with keyboard skills for computers. “I feel it was a mistake to close the institutes,” says Abreu. “If they had remained open, things might have been different. Many people tell me that our children can’t type fast – they’re typing with one finger; the speed is just not there.”

In the Goan town of Ponda, Milagres D’Costa, 70, has been running D’Costa Commercial Institute since 1977. He offers classes in shorthand and typing for computers and manual typewriters; he has no takers for the latter. “Nobody wants to learn on typewriters now,” he says.

While brands such as Remington and Olivetti were popular in India, Godrej & Boyce made India’s first locally produced typewriters from 1955 until 2011, when the increasing reach of mobile phones and computers made that part of the business obsolete. The lack of new typewriters and spare parts, however, has not dampened the enthusiasm of those who love the sound of the keys. Abreu still gets requests to repair and service machines, and the business enjoyed an increase in customers after the first Covid lockdown was lifted in Goa.

The state is now in a second partial lockdown, which means the workshop is closed. Abreu says Covid has been “a boon and a bane” for his business.

“Everyone was cleaning things during the lockdown and we got several machines to look at,” says Natasha, Abreu’s daughter, who helps out at the shop. “We get clients from all over the country. Many are tourists who come across our shop while walking around. They go home and bring back vintage typewriters that they want to use or keep as showpieces.”

But there is little profit in typewriters. “To secure the dealership of one large company I lost a lot of money,” says Abreu. “The company took a deposit from me but they have now disappeared. There is no refund, nothing.”

Spare parts are also difficult to find, and Abreu’s fading eyesight and other health issues make repairs tricky. “I can do basic repairs,” says Natasha. “Things like changing the ribbon and oiling the parts. The rest is a little more intricate for me to do.” A local man, Anton Rebello, has also been trained to make some repairs.

Luis Abreu typewriter story
A typewriter at Domingos Abreu in Panaji. Spare parts are in short supply. Photograph: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

The parcel service is now the main earner. “What else could we do?” says Abreu. “There were no sales or service [work] so we started packaging. It was a good business at the beginning, but now they have introduced new rules, which mean you have to go to the post office, show what is in the package, declare it for customs, and then stitch and seal the package in their presence. My daughter does that work now.”

But the future is uncertain. “I am only one Luis Abreu. How long can a person continue? As long as the main door is open, I will have to do it. I prefer to go till the end.”

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London is the best European city for founders, Startup Genome report

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The UK capital was the only European city to make the top ten in Startup Genome’s ranking, tying with New York in second place for the second year in a row.

London is Europe’s number one start-up city, according to a recent report by Startup Genome. The research and advisory body which specialises in start-ups released its ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021’ report today (22 September).

The report identified London and New York as joint second-best cities in the world for start-ups. London was the only European location to make it into the top ten. The city is attractive to founders thanks to its educated workforce and tax incentives, the report found.

Silicon Valley in California took the top spot, unsurprisingly. This year’s global rankings were dominated by the US, with half of the top 30 ecosystems coming from this region, followed by Asia with 27pc and Europe with 17pc of the top performing ecosystems globally.

Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles alone contributed more than 70pc to the US’s total ecosystem value.

Paris made the top 20, coming in at number 12. The Amsterdam-Delta region followed in thirteenth place. Dublin improved its rank from the previous year’s report, coming in at number 36 this time.

Beijing, Boston, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seattle and Stockholm also made the top ten best start-up cities.

The global start-up economy is currently worth more than $3.8trn in ecosystem value. There are 79 ecosystems generating over $4bn in value, which is more than double the number identified in 2017. This time last year, 91 ecosystems had achieved unicorn status.

Also in 2020, Startup Genome published a report indicating its concerns over the future of the start-ups ecosystem during Covid-19. The report suggested that 42pc of start-ups were in what it called ‘the red zone,’ meaning they had three months or fewer runway ahead of them.

Several countries  including the UK, France and Germany introduced special support packages for start-ups. Irish non-profit Scale Ireland also introduced a similar start-up scheme for Irish companies.

“Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in Europe have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all,” commented JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome on the report’s release.

“The Global Startup Ecosystem Report is the foundation of knowledge where we, as a global network, come together to identify what policies actually produce economic impact and in what context,” Gauthier added.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Facebook oversight board to review system that exempts elite users | Facebook

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.

The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.

Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.

Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.

The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.

The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.

The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.

Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.

A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.

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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

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The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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