Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, June 9

Technology Wave

Growing up in the States, one could say we lived on the forefront of technology. New technologies were invented, tested, and eventually mass produced over decades. I remember my father talking about computers being invented, about how one used to fill an entire room and have less computing power and memory than the one pound tiny gizmo I’m typing on now.

But yet, when I was a kid I remember getting our first computer at home. And I remember in 6th grade class when typing (or keyboarding as we called it) became a mandatory class in school. Computer software classes were electives in 7th and 8th grade. By high school we used computers to write essays and finish other homework assignments. And somewhere in there the internet became a part of my world. I remember when my family first signed up for AOL and we all used one email account, because we didn’t know free ones existed. Back then it would take 5 minutes to load a web page, and we assumed that to be normal. By college, computer classes were mandatory, class notifications were dispersed by email, and I even took classes completely online- never once stepping into a classroom.

In the retrospective, the above describes about 10 years of my life. That’s pretty quick in the world of innovation. Think about how long it took the telephone to go from the days of Alexander Graham Bell to Apple’s iPhone; much more than 10 years. And from the first model T to the hybrid car.

What’s the point, and how does that relate to life in Africa? Well, from where I’m sitting there were some advantages to taking our time getting to know technology. For one, we got to work out all the kinks, learn from mistakes. And for another, over time we developed a set of standards or etiquette for our technologies. And I feel as though both of those key elements are lacking here in Senegal.

Let’s continue with the telephone example. The kinks I speak of include: live operators transferring to automatic dialing; no one home to answer the phone gets solved with answering machines and then voicemail; land lines to car phones, and then portables; miles of telephone cables changing to cellular towers; and then again to satellite; and quick conversations transmitted by beeper and then text message. The list goes on.

As for etiquette, there once was a time when there wasn’t a phone in every room and making a call was a big deal. People were excited to receive calls, were cordial and dropped everything. But as time went on and technology increased, novelty wore off and practicality took over. Now there is etiquette to follow: no calls during dinner or work place meetings. There are a few more etiquette rules to live by as well (as discussed in my previous posting), but the point is that we as Americans lived through all the changes in etiquette and can therefore appreciate why they exist and from where our social rules come.

By no means am I trying to say there isn’t an upside to being behind the technology curve. Where American soil is littered with telephone cables that I believe will be completely useless by the time my kids are my age, West Africa will have only cell towers- and a few of them at that as we transition to satellite communications. Thus their skyline will not be riddled with hideous metal poles and wires for devices no longer utilized.

Still though, I prefer to have lived my American life. With phone etiquette intact, you won’t hear my phone go off during a meeting and I promise to uphold other rules of etiquette.

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