OFTEN, we act as though the shiny new gadget is the technology. Such thinking is needlessly shallow, convenient, and temporary, for any country that boasts of having two Nobel Laureates, a skilled workforce, or educated persons in leadership positions.
It may be easy to marvel over the smooth edges of the gadget of the day, such as the Galaxy, iPhone or Blackberry, not realising that they form a small part of the ICT puzzle. Too many of us think it is the be-all and end-all. It is time to change such thinking.
Since we commonly hear about the internet referred to as the information superhighway, it is useful and convenient to consider road-based comparisons.
Try to imagine a country, like ours, with all its roads, but without bridges. That missing piece of bridging infrastructure would make things very difficult. Although you could still drive around, it would be a rough experience. Road travel would take you over hills, through valleys, and across streams.
Do you think you would be encouraged to buy a car under such conditions? Without the road infrastructure, your car is a monument. Without the necessary investment in bridges, the road infrastructure is a severely restricted limited form of transport. A cold shadow of what it ought to be. If you were adventurous enough to buy a car for use on such roads, would you consider upgrading to a racing car?
In the same way that a poor road network hampers traffic flow, the lack of infrastructural support impedes the pace of development that would typically be expected. If you disagree, consider the following:
(1) Why would you upgrade your mobile data from 3G to 4G, if your monthly data quota could be consumed within mere minutes?
(2) Why learn to build apps, without understanding where apps fit within the wider software-engineering landscape?
The above examples illustrate how the infrastructure environment has such a significant impact on the tool or device being considered. The tool is not the technology, but a part of its overall deployment within a wider ecosystem.
On poorly maintained roads, a racing car becomes an under-used trophy, a monument. Likewise, newer technology devices, which actively depend on a missing infrastructural upgrade, are still incomplete. Also, learning a specific skill, without training in, or understanding of, its wider context, is only part of the expected advancement in knowledge.
Although we readily measure the impact of poor roads and other physical infrastructure, we have much room ahead to enhance our skill level in recognising and quantifying the cost of piecemeal or insufficient improvements in our national ICT infrastructure. In the words of the singer Jimmy Cliff, there are still “many rivers to cross” when we consider our ICT infrastructure environment.
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