Last week I dwelt on the digital divide in Tanzania and we have to admit that technology is wonderful. It is very youth-oriented. The sector taps into human creativity and contributes immensely to human welfare because we use tech to solve problems facing us... right?
Recently, I got drawn into a conversation about nostalgia for the past century as end of a millennium children will do. As we reminisced about what childhood was like, I started to become uncomfortable with how we all seemed to agree that things were maybe not better, but life back then was more “grounded” for lack of a better term. You had to participate more in it if you will. Analog living took some doing.
Without the many amenities we take for granted now, you had to work to communicate, especially over large distances which meant decent handwriting and enough personality to be comprehended and appealing enough to be written back to.
Appointments made had to be kept, no last-minute texting to cancel on plans and no quick “I am on my way!” messages. Be there or be square. There was an almost dangerous soupcon of 'anything can happen' on any given day and we wouldn't know about it until the evening news bulletin at the earliest.
Knowledge was also hard-earned with none of the convenience of search engines, we had to have working memories.
Phone numbers and times tables, routes to places that were distant and the stamina required for long journeys over rough roads. Adults generally did not feel that it was their job to make a childhood 'fun'.
Relatively safe, well-nourished and provided for to the best of their abilities? Yes. Fun was what the great unsupervised outdoors, fellow neighbourhood kids, empty boxes, sticks, string, mudpuddles and— most importantly— imagination were for.
Imagination, trained memories, routine tasks and enough independence to indulge our imagination and our nascent social skills with peers — couple with the emerging age of knowledge.
We might have played with a stick but we were also the children who knew how to programme a VCR and make rabbit-ear antennae out of clothes hangers.
Proto-programmers and engineers without the Youtube video tutorials. We experienced every gaming platform from arcade to console, PC through Virtual Reality, a micro-generation that apparently bridges the gap between the analog and the digital.
Which maybe explains why even though I like tech so much, there is a part of me that has always resisted it.
I think that there is a finite amount of “stretch” in every individual, meaning that we all hit our technology wall at some point, and sometimes for good reasons. I might be sensing the approach of my limitations, thanks mostly to my government of all entities.
When mobile phones first came out, it was clear from the get-go what the danger would be. The mobile phone was a kind of a tether, a leash if you will and I wasn't sure who would be on the other side of it. Initially the resistance had to do with protecting my time: being available via device 24/7 is neither natural nor a good idea.
There was also the concomitant issue of privacy, but that didn't seem like a big deal at the time. I managed to keep my promise of avoiding them for several years until they became cheap and readily available, compellingly convenient and finally necessary.
Fast forward to this year: Tanzania now requires citizens to have a national identification number with fingerprinting to register the Sim cards we use on devices that affords us access to social media and the internet. The internet, social media and ICT have become the defacto manufacturers, repositories and disseminators of news, information and knowledge as well as a critical arena for public, personal and professional purposes. In other words we are locked in. The Hand that hold The Leash has shown itself.
It would be easy to paint all of this as only nefarious, but the conveniences of such a system are nothing to be sniffed at. All forms of identification that one might require? Ease of processing. Registering for a myriad of services including financial? No problem. Shifting from cash to money? Safe and sound. Compliance brings with it a sense of comfort that is lubricated by the speed and efficiency with which you can pay for utilities and get services.
Except that now that a decent amount of people are using this substructure and quite invested in it, the Hand that Holds the Leash has been tugging a bit rudely in the past few months.
We have gone from just paying for services to being taxed quite efficiently via our devices. Even more alarming is the rate at which new taxes and fees are emerging every day.
We are trading something of value for these modern comforts, and I am not sure we know what all it is yet even though somehow our “third world” governments do.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]