Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Consider this scenario: Here I am, a 12th generation South African, typing words into a laptop which I will shortly post as a blog; for consumption by anybody with an internet connection at any location across the planet. In fact, above the planet too, as airlines are bringing on-stream their in flight internet services. So much for the dark continent. Am I unique? Certainly not. South Africa is the 4th largest market for AdMob, a mobile ad serving network utilizing the mobile web. The incongruity of all this techno pride amply juxtaposed with media images of warlords, starvation and general decrepitude. Beginning to see a picture emerging? You certainly are...the one big media wants you to see.

Who benefits from this continued distortion of the stereotypical African image? Big everything of course: oil, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, finance, telecommunications etc. It suites them to project, and perpetuate, this vision of a lost continent. Nobody's going to be concerned over the continued plundering of the world's basket case, right? Wrong, the digital age is rewriting the rules and the "access to information" cat is out of the bag. We might not be able to do all that much about it at the moment, but we know. We know how this reptile mind works now; and we know its coming for all of us. So, we will any person would do with a knife to their throat. Question is: what then?

We will endure another bout of colonization to be sure, but surely a rerun of past history is no longer an option. After all we have the internet, video streaming, instant messaging, video calls and a plethora of other channels to pass the word of resistance. Prevail we will, yet the feeling is that this time we ought to make a lasting statement. The spotlight will certainly attract the sabre rattlers and adventurers, but its greatest use needs to derive from a collective position on the future of humanity. A new contract defining what it is to be part of a human race that's positioning it's affairs for a new millennium. All the more poignant for coming out of a continent that still bears the scars of persistent institutionalized abuse.

This inspirational action has a wonderful resource base to draw from: millennia of ancient societal knowledge. The wisdom that we are inextricably entwined with the fortunes of the planet we live on. That the fortunes of our neighbours are directly tied to our own welfare. Daily reminders that a shot heard in today's digital existence, rings out over the world instantly. We, as Africans, can finally marry these elusive concepts. Modernism with humanism, technology with responsibility, globalization with equality. Utopia now? Surely you jest the cynics will scoff. Why not though? Current systems are hitting the wall in spectacular fashion, an its fair to say that the so-called developed societies are bereft of new ideas. As if we want to continue placing our future in their hands.

So, let's play what if. Jacob Zuma becomes South Africa's next president and, in the 2 years before he's convicted on corruption charges, he mobilizes a populist revolution. Working class people organize into street committees that maintain security in the face of a corrupt police force. The "stokvel" concept expands allowing the unbanked to bypass the formal financial system; and grows the "black" economy to enormous proportions. Small businesses create 80% of new jobs and collectively begin to dominate the formal economy. Traditional politicians, and their corporate backers, are sidelined as community organizations now control grass roots programs and agendas. Provision of basic services continue undisturbed due to the influence of trade unions.

At this stage public fervour is fuelled by a universal contempt for the old guard. This enmity unleashes a collective will to find a new solution. Sound familiar? Then you remember the big events, and the lessons, of a populist movement that ended the rule of hereditary power over elected representatives - the French Revolution. A system that had overstayed it's welcome was removed when the people took to the streets. Those streets exist in cyberspace today, and the protest they entertain is instantly relayed to streets in other parts of the world. Continuing with what if, we now see societies on other continents follow the local model. National organization now jumps borders, then continents, before taking root in every corner of the planet. The hive mind goes into overdrive, the Wikipedia of global cooperation is unleashed, social media becomes a force instead of remaining a marketing curiosity. All areas of human endevour blossom in a newfound atmosphere of creativity. The second Renaissance bursts forth without any warning.

In the final stage of our what if game the new found freedoms become strained as the organizers start resenting the innovators. The people of the world decide to settle and consilidate their gains. New mandarins appear and tcurrent freedoms become fetters of a greater freedom, yet to be attained. This dance, as old as man, settles into a rythm...till the next time. Knowing all of this from past experience, will we still depend on predictable destruction of the present for a better future? All the main players are fulfilling their obligations, the scene is set. This time we need to move beyond the expected and reach far beyond our understanding. Its time to stride out in trust, and to let the rational mind follow the heart for a change.

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