Today, I listened to my friend David Sasaki talk on his substack about technology and nostalgia. He sent me down a nostalgic path of memories of how I engaged with media and technology from my youth and the impact that had on me. For the past few years, I have been an annoying fly in his ears nagging him to write – he used to blog and then stopped. I’m happy he has started again to write and give us a look into his perspectives which I generally find stimulating.
Anyway, I am of the generation that crossed over from the analogue to the digital – given that I had just become an adult as the world worried about the Millenium bug. I used a phone booth to communicate, held a pager briefly and got an Alcatel mobile phone – all in under three years. I wrote letters, licked stamps, sent faxes and money orders, and discovered email and instant messaging (ICQ in 2002 was a website with chatrooms). In online terms, I am a bit of a fossil – having used discussion forums like Mashada and RCBowen, which was run by a guy called Rich for 25 years. Discussion forums came before social media was a thing with such websites as MySpace – this was before the time when social media could be an app. I joined both Facebook and Twitter in 2006/2007.
The world before podcasts
I listened to the radio a lot in my early twenties – more precisely to the BBC World Service. I loved the features and how they told their stories, which I felt had great significance to my life, even when they involved people from far-flung places like Myanmar and Peru. One of the main reasons I enjoyed the stories so much was to observe their writing technique and how they employed anecdotes to bring home a point delicately yet so powerfully.
An old man, who did what we might today call a weekly podcast, reached me in my little bedsitter on my old Panasonic RX-CS45 HiFi system (see left) every Saturday evening. In his Letter From America, Alistair Cooke told stories of FDR and JFK and made us feel like we knew them. He did the weekly letter from March 1946, when he moved to America, until his last in February 2004 – 2,869 letters in 58 years, nary missing a week.
These last few years, we are seeing podcasts become mainstream as media houses and others establish their own. We see the integration of radio, TV, newspaper, and social media unfold before our eyes – such that I could start to watch a feature story, listen to it while on the move and read the rest of it on my phone. This blog post could now be available to you as audio, video and text.
Listening to the BBC World Service and reading stories on their website strengthened my curiosity about the world. They showed me ways to write persuasively – something I have continued to pursue for years. I enjoyed looking for anecdotes so much that I bought old tomes from street vendors of second-hand books in Nairobi and binged on anecdotage.com, which I still immensely enjoy. To this day, I look for Readers’ Digest magazines and quickly flip the pages to read the anecdotes (“Life’s Like That”, “Laughter, the best medicine” and “All in A Day’s Work” first.
My one sadness has been that there are not that many anecdotes from Africa that are easily available. I often wish I could set up a website that would collate anecdotes from Africa. I worry that I cannot do everything, so I haven’t started it.
In a sense, I agree with David that we have arrived at a certain technological plateau in that the curve of new development has become increasingly nuanced. Aside perhaps from the modest advances in AI and medicine. I struggle in the entertainment world because most new movies are fantasy-driven, and the variety has significantly dwindled.
Our relationship with technology has changed.
When my career started in earnest, working in technology mostly meant working ON technology. The focus was on building websites, platforms, portals and later apps. Even when I moved into the non-profit world, funding went to projects and organised hackathons that drove the building of new things – the shinier, the better. The net result was that hype became how things are done, and the focus of technological advancement was on the launch. There are rarely, for example, consistent funds for the maintenance and improvement of a tool developed for social causes.
I remember when I worked in government at the ICT Authority, and we had an event where we presented emails to government officials and demonstrated how it works. I remember Paul Kukubo walking to the back of the room and handing a blackberry phone to an official and showing him how to send an email to an email address that I was manning at the front of the room, with Microsoft outlook projected on the big screens. He sent the email. It was seen to arrive moments later to great applause.
Today, there is an apparent evolution that is ongoing. People are less interested in the technology itself than in what it does for them. Tiktokers do not think about the technicalities of journalistic integrity or the rules of showbiz. They think about the entertainment value, and they post. People are more interested in connecting, transacting, and expressing themselves. There is a generation of people for whom it is not remarkable that the government offers its services via eCitizen. They take it for granted.
Soon, they will take virtual reality for granted, and email will become obsolete. Hopefully, soon, teleportation will be possible, and we shall take self-driving cars for granted.
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