Tuesday, April 28, 2009

End the Madness

“Jimoh! Abeg! Come Carry Am”

For many people in Nigeria, the first time they ever experienced the real power of information and communication technology was the first time they had a car breakdown (or some other emergency) and they were able to call their mechanic.

A couple of mindboggling things happened in that phone call. First was the fact that as an ordinary Nigerian, they actually had a mobile phone. Remember the Nigerian military governor who declared that phones (never mind the “cellular” phone) were only for the rich? Well, he was wrong. The average Nigerian could now access the whole planet from a little hand-held device.

The second amazing thing in the moment was the fact that the said mechanic had his own cell phone. The average mechanic is several social levels below the average car owner in Nigeria. However, the mechanic was suddenly able to multiply the scope of his business,  accelerate his ability to deliver service, increase his customer base, better manage relationships with suppliers, and reduce his operating costs (I know Jimoh wouldn’t have put it in quite those words, but that is what he could now do). For the guy calling, that first phone call for help from on top of Eko Bridge, in the rain, would have justified the unbelievably expensive N18,000.00 that first Econet Mobile phone cost.

The “Wow”

For some the “wow” moment was the first time they pressed the power button on the beige box, the black and white screen came up, they typed “win” in front of the “>” and a computer program opened. Maybe it was when they opened Netscape Navigator and opened Yahoo.com or when they send their first email. For others it was when they placed an order on Amazon.com and the package was delivered or had that first Skype conversation over the web or downloaded their first album from a disk to their PC or played their first game of Doom or opened the white box from Cupertino or wrote their first GBASIC app and “Hello World” scrolled across the screen. Whatever that moment was, it was an awesome moment of absolute wonder.

Like I said, mindboggling.

Technology, right from the invention of the wheel, from the first time Adam, Cain or Seth first figured out how to start a fire has promised to deliver amazing new capabilities to society. For the most part, it has delivered. From cars to computers, medication to illumination, entertainment to education, technology has made us so much more productive. We cannot imagine living without the technology tools we have now.


The Catch

Technology also promised to give us greatly simplified lives. In that it has failed astronomically. I remember one of the benefits we were told we would receive from the cell phone was that we would be able to go out less because we would call people rather than visit them. Well not only do we  visit more people than ever before, we keep talking on the phone while driving along making us even greater menaces on the streets than we already are. You can’t even get away from people anymore. Your phone keeps ringing. And  you have to answer it. Every time. Do we remember the paperless office? Once we got rid of the typewriter and handwritten documents, we would have a lot less need to use paper documents as everything would be on computers. Well, I think we can all testify that we have a lot more paper on hand, because of computers, than our parents ever did. Oh and that Blackberry they gave you at the office? It’s not a status symbol. It’s a ball and chain.

Technology has complicated our lives. We are overwhelmed with information. The cell phone and mobile internet access means we are always at work. We manage 4 or 5 email accounts. We maintain profiles and relationships on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter. We are worried about identity theft, internet fraud, the compromise of credit cards, privacy issues. We have to protect our systems from viruses, worms and spam. We have to organise hundreds of photos from our digital cameras, and our worlds nearly come to halt when we lose all our contact information on stolen cell phones. Then there’s the lady I saw the other day with 3 cell phones and one of them was dual SIM. And we have to be on the lookout for the Google Street View camera van to make sure it doesn’t take pictures of our houses!

Is it all worth it?

Actually, it’s not. Not if we let it continue the way it is now. The story made the news a couple of years ago about a British businessman who banned email in his office because his employees were emailing each other rather than talking to the guy 4 feet across from them. They would email customers rather than calling them on the phone resulting in deals and services taking longer to conclude. Write a 10 word sentence. Email it. Receive another 20 email in response 2 hours later. Respond with 5 words. Receive the reply to that the next day.


When I heard the story then, I laughed and made a crack about merry “old” England (and got a dirty look from the expatriate who told me the story), but the man had a valid point. We need to run the technology not let the technology run us.

Ending It

So let’s talk about this. How do we simplify our lives? How do we eliminate the technology that complicates rather than enriches our lives? What habit forms do we need to break? What disciplines do we need to develop? Post your comments and let’s figure out ways to end the madness.



Leonard said...

Methinks going back to the "farm" might just solve most if not all of these problems. Our fore-parents' lives were not that complicated, perhaps not even complicated at all. The whole wide world was just the perimeter of the family compound cum surrounding farmyards, and of course the village and the square in it. Technology has expanded that definition/ horizon right outside this planet, and worse still into a virtual world that is practically limitless...

Oladejo Fabolude said...

Well Leonard, the genie is outside the bottle already. what we need is to get out the excess fat and use what is really valuable.

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