So... another year, eh. Usually the first column or two are supposed to be dedicated to a looking forward into the coming months sort-of-thing. Here goes.
My favourite story of technological adoption in the recent past involves some anecdote about someone dropping off tablet computers in a village in India where the children in the school were allowed to use them however they saw fit.
The clincher: There were no computer classes, no guidance, no nothing. The children were left to their own devices. Within no time not only were they using the tablets in sophisticated and unexpected ways, they were also tampering with the hardware.
Disclaimer: I don’t know if this story is true because I am not going to trawl through the broken glass that is Google’s severely deteriorated algorithm to find this specific story. However, I happen to enjoy the acquaintance of a number of young people and can assure you that their ability to completely blow your mind in their adoption and use of computing technology is nothing to sniff at.
If you have ever been locked out of your phone by a three-year-old who changed the language to Thai, or wandered through your pictures only to find several Easter eggs left on your album decorated with emojis, you know what I mean.
Nonetheless it got me to thinking about what disrupted times we are living in, and what realities. At a family event this holiday season, one of the youths got caught playing a superbly violent carjacking game with his underage cousin – the whole thing engineered of course by children who knew enough to know that they could afford a few hours of entertainment before their adults clued into what was going on.
Confession: I did spy them at play and rather judiciously walked away because I also started consuming age-inappropriate entertainment from a hair-raisingly young age. Why shouldn’t they?
It is a matter of literature, to be honest. You see, imagination. As 2016 unfolded in all sorts of untold ways, I could not help but remember the library of my youth and the access it gave to try to comprehend the curious nature of the world we live in and what it is developing into.
Paradigm shifts are weird things, and to reiterate a point I made last week and will probably keep making to the end of time: It is only artists who have that unique skill of looking beyond a horizon and bringing the future and the past to the present in tangible ways.
No reader of science fiction can be totally surprised at the idea of one country hacking another country’s elections, nor of how technology can be used to Big Brother us all into techno-totalitarian regimes.
No reader of fantasy can pretend any ignorance of the concept of long time arcs, and the past intruding upon the present repeatedly in all sorts of forms: The influence of religions that are millennia-old, racism and caste, a grinding sense of what it really takes to change a society and how long a project that can be. But mostly, speculative fiction in general has a way of introducing complexities of life and storylines that can incubate the little reservoirs of imagination that our conservative societies are so hostile towards. Besides, kids are smarter than we give them credit for.
Watching these young people break rules mildly by playing an illicit game made me think that perhaps an ongoing theme for this first true year of the 21st century could be futurism. It is not clear how it will work beyond trying to peek over horizons. The challenges will be how to talk about the good things: Health, education, gender, politics, inequality, economics, all through a slightly different lens.
There’s a need for some freshness, I think, in my country’s contemporary dialogues about society and politics that is not being well-served, which is a shame. It has led us to a sort of philosophical vacuum and a political laziness that is absurd.
Don’t worry: There will still be pithy commentary on matters du jour. Couple of neighbouring countries going to the polls this year, economic upheavals galore, and at least nine months of suppressed feminism needing some release. But in-between, it’ll get exploratory.
By the way: Did you know that the women (yes, women) who did the calculations that allowed NASA to fly their rockets off earth were African Americans? And that they were called computers... long before that word became common usage? You’re welcome. For this one I don’t have to make a disclaimer: There’s a movie about it.
Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com. E-mail: [email protected]