“When the rhythm of the drum beat changes, the dance movement must also change accordingly.”
This Ghanaian proverb speaks poetically to the dilemma of change within the social sphere. As the rhythm, or the underlying structure, changes, so does the human reaction, or the dancing. This phrase translates to me a yearning for progress, an embracing of the rhythms of time and space. This attitude is one the seems to resonate to my Western mind, where digital communications are met with uncertainty and skepticism as to it’s ability to create a “global village”. However, in Africa, a digital revolution is taking place that signals a fast approaching meeting of First World and Third World in a digitally mediated social sphere, which beckons both sides to change their “dancing” to adapt to the changing “rhythm”.
There has been a shift is the social paradigm of many of the world’s cultures ever since the dawn of digital technologies, this being a shift in connectivity. The advances made in computing and digital communications, such as the internet and mobile devices, have drastically altered the ease of access to information, as well as one’s ability to communicate across communities and state lines. This obscuring of physical boundaries has opened up cultural and social barriers. Particularly in Africa, the rise of mobile devices and the internet have created an environment of learning and expansion. Even without having widespread access to electricity, the remotest villages in Africa can house internet cafes and schools can have laptops to use in educating.
Despite Africa’s limited access to technology, mere hand me downs from a technological diaspora of used and underpowered machines, Africa has rapidly grown its technological infrastructure, and it continues to grow. The growth of mobile phone usage has grown more rapidly in Africa than the rest of the world, and people in Africa use their mobile devices to do everything from banking, social media, education, checking crop prices, weather, and staying politically active. The amount of citizens using the internet and these mobile devices in their daily lives has created a disconnect between access to information and desire to use these devices. This has led to international interest in “connecting” Africa to the rest of the world in terms of bandwidth. Various foreign private organizations and domestic African entrepreneurs have invested millions of dollars in laying down an infrastructure for increasing bandwidths for Africa that would ease the transition of the continent entering into the global economic marketplace. Seacom is one of the most recent and ambitious efforts, but in terms of the amount of information that can pass through the line, the African owned and instigated AWCC project wins out.
With a greater access to information, the main dilemma the countries of Africa will face is how they chooses to regulate this access. One country that is looking ahead to this dilemma, Ghana, has recently put forth a Data Protection Act, which states, “Ghanaians will have the right to refuse to give some information or data about themselves or their relatives when they are not sure what the information or data was going to be used for.” 1. Another example of a security problem is how much personal information needs be provided when using these devices. Africa mainly uses mobile phones for communication, yet many countries do not register SIM cards with names. This creates an environment where piracy can flourish, so countries have to come up with regulations and information collecting measures to track potential piracy. Africa seems to be heading quickly into a culture, as Palfrey suggests is happening all over the world, where “information and communications technologies [are] connected to the rest of life in virtually every respect”. Therefore, Africa could could serve as a sort of sandbox for varying social and state implementations of regulating digitized communications within a vastly mobile and constantly changing social environment. And maybe through Africa’s entry into the high speed digital community, the rest of the world can come closer to achieving the long dreamed of “global village” of the early utopian visions of the internet.
1 – http://www.ghana.gov.gh/index.php/news/features/14647-ghanas-data-protection-law-in-the-digital-age