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The only way to conquer new technology is embracing it

COMMENTARY
By Henry Munene | February 6th 2016

I bought my first Kencell line at Sh2,500 in Eldoret. I also acquired a handset I could ill afford, a second-hand blue motorolla with a long aerial that made it look like those ancient police communication gadgets. Whenever it rang in a matatu, I let it ring and ring, until I had the attention of all the girls around. Then I would shout into the earpiece at 120 decibels, as if I wanted the person on the other side to hear me without the benefit of the gadget.

Before the cellphone came to the scene, we used to queue at Telkom booths armed with coins. Some shrewd traders would stand outside a booth on Moi Avenue selling eight one-shilling coins at Sh10. The mobile phone, needless to say, drove Telkom booths out of town.

Again before long, and because not everyone could afford the gadgets, Simu ya Jamii (commercial cell phones) were all the business craze. Then Safaricom came along and started selling airtime in small denominations. They became the unassailable market leaders they are today. So today, no one sells coins outside booths and Simu ya Jamii is no more. Technology rages like a prairie conflagration, and you can either innovate or perish. As they would say in the village, technology is no one’s nanny.

I remember writing letters to the editor and Mashairi for the papers. We did it with a pen and foolscap. We’d put the letter in a brown envelope and send the delivery van driver to that mystical man called ‘the editor’, who was kind enough to print our young efforts two weeks hence.

Then came the cyber cafes, where you paid up to Sh20 per minute and ended up taking one hour to send something you had paid someone else to type. We saved stuff in what we used to call floppy diskettes. Sometimes you kept reading columns such as Literary Forum in the Sunday Standard and Friday’s From the Shags (which I loved writing for) hoping to see your byline. Only to check email two weeks later and oh my, your email bounced back. Today, most people have no idea what floppy diskettes and Simu ya jamii are, yet these employed many people. Even children today call, browse and chat from affordable smart phones. Folks, we just sat through a revolution.

Slightly over ten years ago, we used Adobe Pagemaker in desktop publishing. A good editor was a mobile encyclopaedia of sorts. We used proofreaders’ signs to edit on hard copy using red biro ink. What’s more, you had to know facts, dates and the spelling of the words of the language you edited in. Today, google, Wikipedia and other web-based solutions have come to the aid of editors, I daresay, lowering the bar for entry into my profession – and I am not complaining. Today, most editors have no idea what proofreader’s marks are. New technology is always greeted by a wall of resistance. There are people who feared mobile money transfer services. Six years ago, I attended a seminar at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, led by Lydia Nzomo, now TSC chairperson, on how to entrench technology in learning.

 

Most participants, especially teachers, were of the view that computers would take a long time to find their way to Kenyan classrooms. They cited lack of electricity and the fact that computers were ‘an urban thing’. As I write this, most schools have electricity and mobile technology uptake in rural Kenya is among the highest in the world.

Why did I choose to ramble on and on about technology? This week, traditional taxi drivers have been fighting Uber, which seeks to disrupt how cabbies do their business in Nairobi and other world cities. They say it is driving them to inflation. They can’t pay their loans and buy food, thanks to Uber. What they don’t know is that they also replaced another cadre that did not use things like cellphones to communicate with clients. In short, come off it, gentlemen, you simply can’t swim against the tide!

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