It’s sometimes hard to believe that California’s info-tech heaven in the Silicon Valley and the wonder I see on my people’s faces as they see pictures of themselves on my netbook exist on the same planet.
I’ve been showing my hosts videos and photos on the netbook most nights, and we’ve progressed from soccer highlights to movies, and have now gone through about 4 hours of top football goals, Persepolis, Robin Hood (new version), and Slumdog Millionaire. It’s incredible to see how everyone is completely in tears laughing at certain parts of these movies, but the nuance is often lost due to low volume/nonexistent English skills. Sense of humour changes depending on your understanding of the situation.
I’ve been speaking to a group of twenty-somethings, and we’ve progressed from the ideas that diagnosing Torontonian homelessness isn’t that simple to the smart design of excel to solve government data management issues. These first year mechatronics students readily oblige with laughter to my cheesy jokes about signing up for engineering for the sex appeal, and the pretend shame as I hang my head for not being an engineer. But they sit up straighter when I mention that Africa is exploding with telecommunications potential, and cell phone penetration is 65%, just ten people per 100 fewer than China and Canada. Sense of potential changes depending on your understanding of the situation.
This bridge is being built, slowly and steadily, as evidenced by international uproar when Blackberry’s service was interrupted a few months ago. It was considered one of those “first world problems”, yet Nigerians were particularly vocal about the ridiculousness of the situation, where a global service provider failed their clients miserably. That’s why it’s time to stop thinking of an “us” and “them”, where we of the developed, Western, “first” world have incredible access to technology and opportunity and everyone else doesn’t. We have our 1% and 99 just as Nigeria does.
There’s a lot there that gets reduced in our debate of have and have-nots, where potential is waiting to develop. Where someone has two cell phones but no health insurance, like my host-father Chairman in Northern Ghana. Where engineering students are highly trained in technical expertise but have to brutally compete for co-op opportunities in Canada. How do we assess opportunity, and untapped potential?