Tag Archives: technology against poverty

Dreaming Technologically

Power to the people

Power to the people

Okay, okay, so I’m a sucker for gadgets. Not such a nut though that I would subscribe to STUFF magazine or Apple magazine. No. Just your low-level sucker. I love the idea of owning the latest gadget, I so wish I could afford them but I can’t, so I make do with what I can afford. That’s why the impending demise of Research In Motion(RIM), the makers of Blackberry, brings a tinge of sadness to my heart, maybe even the proverbial tear.

See, I think gadgets, cell phones in particular are a good sign of a nation’s progress. Pause. Just kidding. I hope you did pause right there, otherwise I got you.

No, seriously though, I’m a bit of a dreamer and gadgets probably represent some of my most far-fetched dreams coming to life. Did you know that South Africa has a cellphone penetration of over 100%? There are more SIM cards in this country than people.

I have this belief that technology, especially mobile technology, can and will play a major role in the fight against poverty going forward.

Each time I get to a service delivery area such as a rates payments hall or an overcrowded public hospital I always end up day-dreaming about a day when people, specifically poor people, can use the one technological gadget that 80% of our population can afford to navigate the demeaning wait at a public hospital or rates payment hall, the cellular phone.

Imagine it, if instead of getting to a public hospital at 5am a person could SMS their unique identity number or use an app to book a place in line,get a response to get to the hospital between 11h00 and 12h30, that would remove a 6-hour waiting period, during which hunger and other frustrations set in. I’m certain some IT boffin somewhere can make it happen. I mean, we have apps that can do almost anything, book flight tickets, buy insurance, make coffee…ok it’s not here yet but it’s coming.

What? You think it’s just dreams? I remember my first time in a gym many years ago, I just couldn’t understand how a treadmill could measure the calories I burnt during my running, now there’s an app to measure the distance you run, the calories you burn, the speed at which you run, even where and when you stopped! And you think apps to lighten the load of the poor is not possible? Come on!

Of course this would require technological improvements such as Wifi being freely available, or at least very affordable, instead of marching for economic freedom we should march for technological advancement. Free WiFi everywhere!

Imagine several thousand phones beeping to tell residents of a planned water shortage tomorrow between 09:00 and 15:00, in a village somewhere, instead of the indignity of finding out when trying to flush the toilet… It’s probably happening in the developed world, why not for the poor.

Who would have thought, a few years ago, that a person could walk into a little shop somewhere and send money 500km away, it’s happening now. Previously people needed to take up to three taxis and use quite a bit of money to send their loved ones money. Not anymore.

If you thought the love of gadgets should be the preserve of geeks and IT boffins think again. If you don’t want to believe this then tell me why a 10 or 15 year old today doesn’t know what a telegram is? Somebody had a dream and look how you are reading a telegram today, on your phone or computer! Only you call it email, SMS, WeChat or Whatsapp.

I couldn’t help but wonder if technology would not have come to the aid of the people of Cape Town a week ago. See, the weather people saw the adverse weather coming. What if the mobile phones of the people in the shack areas had beeped, sending out a warning a day before the floods? Or even hours before? “Move to safety, terrible storm coming”. I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s quite doable.

How about in war-ravaged countries, prior warnings through the mobile device could save thousands. “Sick, bloodthirsty rebels approaching, move to next town”. Ok so I’m dreaming , allow me to.

I hope you too will become a gadget-to-improve-lives sucker.

In my daydreaming days I used to wonder why it is that a virtual soccer stadium could not be created so tickets didn’t have to be sold out. Imagine it, a full stadium with life-size virtual images (holograms) that are beamed live onto the pitch as things would be happening in the original game. I have read one or two reports that suggest that this will not remain a dream forever. After all, TuPac Shakur was brought back to life on stage for the purposes of a performance.

What do you dream technology could do to improve lives?

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