Friday, November 04, 2011
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 00:00
We are living in a fast-changing terrain. If you snooze, you lose. As I watch the popular embrace of information communication technologies by all and sundry, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity and belief systems, it is as if the Internet, with its accompanying familiarities such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yookos have always been a part of our lives.
We have become the touch-button generation that can easily talk about bits and bytes, cyberspace and virtual reality.
Despite using them daily, I've often remarked that sometimes I feel so ancient. It was in the early 90s that our small class on information networking (the Internet) turned some of us into cyberpunks - literally living on the Internet - netizens as one of our professors loved to call us.
We even laughed at a New York Times article of June 5, 1994 headlined, "On the Internet, dissidents' shots heard ‘round the world'".
To the print media, this was a major discovery, which we had since discovered as we witnessed struggles finding their way on the Internet.
When social media finally became the acceptable term, it was not surprising to see that the Internet is playing a crucial role in people's daily lives. The interesting thing is the manner in which they mutate and also get replicated sometimes with unknown consequences.
For while the Arab Spring continues, it has given momentum to another revolution: the anti-capitalist protests that started off as Occupy Wall Street, but have gone global.
Award winning journalist Heather Brooke's recently published book, "The Revolution Will Be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War" gives a stamp of authority to this new scenario. What Alvin and Heidi Toffler called the "big bang"!
It is an expose of how revolutions in the 21st century will be fought. This is a book about the information war - the information that leads to thousands of drones being dropped on infrastructure and people.
It is exciting, but in some cases spooky and terrifying. So recent is the information in the book that even the founder of the whistleblower WikiLeaks Julian Assange is given quite a bit of narrative.
Poignant issues are raised on the blurb of the book: "There is more information in the world than ever - but who's in control? At the centre is the Establishment: governments, corporations and powerful individuals who have more knowledge about us, and more power, than at any other time in history. Circling them is a new generation of hackers, pro-democracy campaigners and Internet activists who no longer accept that the Establishment should run the show."
As she seeks answers, Brookes "explores the most urgent questions of the digital age: where is the balance between freedom and security? In an online world, does privacy still exist? And will the Internet empower individuals, or usher in a new age of censorship, surveillance and oppression?"
In my view these questions form the crux of digital revolutions: who is in charge of what, how and where?
Who are the owners, and who are the net consumers? Do the end users understand how this ball game is being played? Do they understand the agendas and the bigger picture?
Zimbabwe has fought major revolutions and has won, but is it able to conduct a digital revolution, and still come up tops?
Do we understand all the electronic gadgets that continue to wire up our lives and, are we able to get maximum advantage from them?
Will we be able to implement what Alvin and Heidi Toffler recommend in their book, "The Third Wave", which is to create knowledge warriors - moving data banks - who can fight these digital revolutions?
The Tofflers argue that "As the third wave war-form takes shape, a new breed of ‘knowledge warriors' has begun to emerge - intellectuals in and out of uniform dedicated to the idea that knowledge can win, or prevent wars . . . "
Brooke is expressing how she sees the world around her changing in real time. What it means is that these are effects that will be felt by every nation and every human being. How we respond to them will determine our failure and/or success.
It is time we started asserting our influence in this digital age and wage digital revolutions.
I've often wondered how we can fight these revolutions when the generational gap makes it look like the younger generation has a better grasp, but instead of taking the older generation together with them, they would rather privatise that knowledge.
The reality is that for that revolution to be won, both generations should work as a team.
"The Revolution Will Be Digitised has an attention-grabbing cover design - a clenched fist - the clenched fist which was denounced by United states president Barack Obama in his inaugural speech in 2009. He preferred an open palm.
Revolutionaries around the world, Zanu-PF included have used the clenched fist as a symbol in their slogans. I noted that the clenched fist is not just a symbol of defiance, but it is also a symbol of unity.
An observer who saw me reading the book remarked that the African revolution through the fist had gone global, but time will tell if Africa will manage the digital age.
Brooke also ends her book thus, "We now have a technology that unites individuals in such a way that we can create the first global democracy. Hundreds of millions of people are climbing out of poverty and the Internet gives them access to the sort of information that was previously accessible only to elite scholars.
"They can join a worldwide conversation and come together in infinite permutations to check power anywhere it concentrates. The greatest achievement isn't in producing technology, but using it to redefine the boundaries of what is possible."
Africa managed to leapfrog and embrace the technologies.
I reiterate the challenge in using these technologies for Africa's good, and not allow them to be used by those who have always had the upper hand to do down Africa.