Opinion: The privilege of tech ownership
A recent article in The Zimbabwean presents a great caveat about a pitfall of technological advancement. The message applies to a global audience, but is very pertinent at this crucial time in Africa where early adopters are giving way to the majority. Such is the process of diffusion: discovery, promotion, engagement, entitlement, migration. The key is for the majority to not become stuck in the entitlement phase.
Now to the scene presented by The Zimbabwean: Imagine yourself at an ICT conference in Harare. One would expect scores of young developers who have perhaps experimented with apps, attempted to start a business, or are enrolled at university. Such was not the case last year, at least according to the President of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe. He describes the scene as one of boastfulness, recalling men flaunting laptops and mobile phones instead of innovative Zimbabwean software. The attendees were apparently more interested in physical capital than in human capital. They felt that having technology was synonymous with making use of technology. The President of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe calls this bluff and advises attendees to change their mentality. After all, in this case, not only do the innovators and early adopters represent the face of Zimbabwe, but they set the tone for the Zimbabwean majority as ideas and technology trickle downward.
Ostensibly, the owners of the latest devices would better their world in some form, be it imparting skills to others, promoting good health, or by trial-and-error entrepreneurship. However, the tendency is to use tech devices as means for pure social communication – which can be beneficial in many cases. Problems arise, however, when devices are used purely for entertainment purposes. Let us not forget that the latest devices also double as status symbols.
Ownership of a new device is a privilege. Yes, laptops and mobile devices should be displayed with pride in Africa, but they should be held high as beacons of hope rather than status symbols. Youth should aspire to own such devices not because they generate prestige, but because they produce innovation, collaboration, and increase the quality of life.