Cholera In the Age of Knowledge -By Tope Fasua

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Tope Fasua

Tope Fasua

 

Let it not be written in future history, that in this period of tectonic shifts in global economics, knowledge, information and sociology we had but little to add.

So I bought this external CD drive yesterday at a whopping N25,200 somewhere in Abuja. The CD drive on my Macbook Pro is messing up; rejecting CDs. I think they even stopped adding a cd compartment entirely. This necessitates every Mac user getting an external drive. Maybe other computer manufacturers will follow suit. By necessity, all who use smaller appliances like pods and iPads etc, will eventually have to get external cd drives.

But I had a problem using this external cd/dvd drive. I connected to my laptop but nothing happened. My laptop wouldn’t ‘see’ the cd drive. I tried a million times, no dice. I was thinking of returning the appliance to the shop in Wuse 2, or how else would I get someone to ‘help’ me, even for a fee.

Then I had an idea – which I should have had earlier if not that I belong to the old school – to ‘google’ the problem. There is always a tome of questions and answers on just about any problem in the world. These are interactions between real people who have had your kind of problem before, and who managed to solve them; from health issues to tech issues. I saw some information that I started toying with since yesterday. I got frustrated around midnight and went to sleep.

Woke up this morning looking at the N25K cd drive with anger. What did I get myself into? Wetin dey wrong with these Apple people sef? What is the problem with Steve Jobs? Hours later, I settled down to try again. Only this time I got a better idea. Why not type this problem on Youtube? At least I may get someone to describe the solution for me to see. Query: “I CAN’T GET MY APPLE SUPERDRIVE TO WORK”. A number of people had posted different things online. One of the first I clicked on explained how CDs/DVDs are no longer needed since anyone can download anything from the internet. She bought the cd drive because she wanted to convert her old music CDs into soft copies on her laptop. Hmm… CD/DVDs no longer needed. Companies that sell those are struggling now. My last experience at HMV on Oxford Street was less than cordial. But her video didn’t help that much. She didn’t seem to have any problems getting this drive to work.

All this while, the CD drive seemed dead. There is no button on it to click ‘on’ or ‘off’. I was only trying to ensure I didn’t buy a dud.

Then I found the video that explained by kind of problem. The guy, a Chinese American, explained that this was a software issue but I could do-it-myself. I followed the four-minute clip assiduously for almost 2 hours before I could get the dang thing to work.

‘Go to your terminal screen’.. he said. Chai! Where is that again? I managed to locate it. By clicking on “Launchpad” and then “Utility”.

“Type this command; sudo pico /Library/Prefernces/SystemsConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist.. Enter. Take Command X. Take Control B. Copy “mbasd=1″ and paste.

Oluwa o! Here I was typing programming commands. I swore to get this dang cd drive to work today. The system warned me several times to be careful with ‘sudo’ commands, else I could lose all my files, and even system files; meaning the laptop may stop working altogether. Because I missed one ‘space’ here or there, my command was truncated a couple of times. After scaling all these commands, I still saw one error message. Well, I switched off the ‘lappy’ and on again. Bingo! The dang cd drive was working. Ehmm…. I looked left and right as if being watched. I started thinking whether I could set up a workshop for this kind of software problem, especially for those who are too mumu to know that almost everything they need is now on the internet. Not so fast…

Recall we agreed long ago that many jobs will disappear never to be replaced. Even the techies are destroying their own jobs by posting these kinds of videos. It is called creative destruction. The space for RELEVANCE is shrinking. And without relevance, no one will pay you to do anything for them. You have to be RELEVANT. NEEDED. IMPORTANT. A PROBLEM SOLVER. Before the world we live in will pay you a token. Some menial jobs will remain, but they will command peanuts. Backwater economies, like those in Africa, may continue to totter along with the old, corrupt economic order, only that they, and their people will get sucked to the marrow in no time.

Economics has changed.

I read a certain Paul Mason recently in the Guardian newspapers of London explain what is going on. I think he is right about what he calls ‘post-capitalism’. The only way out for a world where millions lose their jobs to technology, is that it becomes less and less important to actually go to work. And that it should cost as little as possible to survive, and actually live a fairly okay life. That is where my ‘kwanta’ with our telecoms companies come in. Whereas the rest of the world is now taking INTERNET for granted, and through the internet, the entire world is able to connect to cost-saving measures that reduce how much they need to survive, we here make everything a big deal. And sincerely, no one who is anyone, is thinking for the collective; as in imagining how this new reality will pan out for us, much less taking any action about it. At best what I’ve seen is the same old analogue thinking; privatise, PPP, foreign investors, mining, petroleum, Yayyyy, let us milk the people!!

Information is the new capital. And unlike the current system of ‘market’ capitalism, information doesn’t operate under scarcity. Information operates under abundance. Information is nothing if it is not shared, valuable in direct proportion to the number of people who have it. Markets are based on scarcity, which forms the basis for ‘price discovery’. This very structure is undergoing a process of annihilation right now.

Anyone who is outside the loop of information, is a victim. He can keep paying up out of the generosity of his heart, but for how long can he last? If you don’t know how to manipulate the internet, and technology in general, you’re a learner. Anyone can learn though. If you’re too old, get your children or grandchildren to help. I could have paid someone N10,000 to help ‘fix’ this software issue. That is N10,000 I’d never get back again. I could as well have gone back to where I bought the cd drive to ‘raise hell’. That will be two hours of productivity lost, on both sides.

As we engage ourselves in our economy with bickering, inefficiency, unnecessary quarrels over issues that don’t exist, policy inertia, tribal and religious politics, the world powers on into the future. The choice is ours.

The future is one where we would actually need to work less. Wake up in the morning. Work out for three hours. Get tired. Go home. Bathe. Get on your laptop – or whatever device they use then. Communicate. Stay relevant. Get paid. A few people are already living in that realm – think of bloggers who get paid. Many are living that way already abroad. Here we are still talking of manufacturing ‘whatever it is’ that may become useless to the world even before we are able to complete the factory site – which we would be building with borrowed funds in the first place.

Work is no longer eight to five. Accenture UK started a programme where staff work from home at least for two days in a week, a long time ago. Manufacturing only makes sense if we intend to produce locally FOR OURSELVES, in order to substitute what we buy from abroad. And only if we are able to protect our economy – an increasingly impossible task these days. But we must be careful too, because our people love to buy innovations from abroad, so they may ignore things produced locally. Natural resource extraction is a no-no, because we sell them for cheap, and if we are to exist in this post-capitalist, post-modern world, we need our environment to be ship-shape, not polluted and over-exploited. The future is a DIY world. Job losses have become the order of the day all over the world. Workers are earning effectively less; having less to do. Went into a bank branch here yesterday and the staff idleness was shocking. Yet the staff were so few compared to when I worked in banks. Unions are being destroyed, but here, the unions are feeding off their poor members. The Ogas are richer than politicians. Workers have no say.

In developed countries, the top notches know this very well and are well-positioned. Apart from owning the technology, information and knowledge (even if cheap), they also own almost all the companies that have made global forays. They know that the prices of almost everything – including food – will crash, as everyone gets smarter, asks more questions, seeks alternatives, helps themselves, so they are riding the wave. I reckon their thinking is ‘There can be no harm in being post-modern, and retaining some of the cash of the old order’. Best of two worlds eh?

I think we ought to look at it this way in order to see the slacks in our system. Luckily our young ones are signing on to this information superhighway. They can do with some government assistance in structuring their thoughts, and restructuring society for better living for all. Alas, many leaders in Africa are still concerned with stealing and stashing cash – in every currency – when, according to Paul Mason, even cash may become irrelevant, the day all a man needs in a month, is the equivalent of $20.

Information is the new capital. And unlike the current system of ‘market’ capitalism, information doesn’t operate under scarcity. Information operates under abundance. Information is nothing if it is not shared, valuable in direct proportion to the number of people who have it. Markets are based on scarcity, which forms the basis for ‘price discovery’. This very structure is undergoing a process of annihilation right now. I shudder though, at what will happen if information (sorry, currency) is taken away by the innovators in the new milieu. What happens if the internet suddenly disappears, and we can no longer google stuff.

Or if the innovators decide to hike the prices of everything. The consolation is that knowledge is already democratised, and many smart people can re-create anything that is of value if suddenly unavailable. However, it makes one more comfortable, and prouder, if your people, your country, is also at the cutting edge of information and knowledge, rather than being a consumer nation. Worse than being a consumer of cars, laptops, and even food, is being a mere consumer, not a producer of information and knowledge.

Let it not be written in future history, that in this period of tectonic shifts in global economics, knowledge, information and sociology we had but little to add.

Tope Fasua, an economist and consultant, is CEO of Global Analytics Consulting.

 

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