In 1987, I saw my first computer when I was studying at the University of South Africa. It was my first year out of high school. I knew then that I was hooked. You could type a name of a book and it will tell you where to find it. Somedays I sat there for hours just typing book name and check if the computer was right. I was fascinated. A friend of mine was studying computer programming so he spent more time on it and the way he talked about computers made me even more fascinated. I guess what I should have done then was to follow this path, but I did not.
I used to wonder, maybe to some extent I still do, how TV shows always showed computer being always connected. There seemed to be an automatic connection which did not exit yet, at least. In real life, even now, you have to navigate through a lot of interactions in order to get connected. When I went to Europe I experience this first hand, granted this was ten year ago. Maybe things have improved now, but I doubt it. Connections that are not intended to steal your information are secure and you have to acquire access through payment. Even after this gaining access is not as simple as all that. It’s almost as if you need some computer degree to navigate the process. Technology these days has tried to make it easier to get online albeit a few people million at a time.
Statistics shows that more that 50% on South African population has internet connection, either though mobile phones, work or personal computers.
What the statistics does not show is the average number of unique users of the internet. This 50% may be a result of multiple connections from the same person. For example my internet connections in my house is close to 15 in total comprising of 6 cellphones, 3 tablets, 4 laptops and 2 gaming consoles. There are only 4 people in my house. Does this count as 15 user or 4 users. The unemployment rate is estimated at 25% but we believe it to be 50%, which means less than 25% on the population internet access. Technology was mean to rescue us during the lockdown but instead we were plagued with endless connectivity challenges due to the system being overworked or taken over by criminals.
Our infrastructure support companies with one entry point irrespective of how many employees there are. One access point which could be increased or decrease according to demand. Those employees are no longer accessing the internet through this one point but through millions and millions of access points from various locations. So what ended up happening that weakness and heavy traffic usage in the system started showing up. Video conferencing facilities were hacked and disrupted. Some became so slow it became ineffective to hold online meetings. Video conferencing became teleconferencing i.e audio only. Staying at home also created a streaming consumption of online video content, TV Shows, Movies and games. Congestion moved from the roads to the house i.e. online.
So why were we not ready, technology-wise? We clearly have the technology, expertise and resources. When the rest of the world was downloading content at 30mb per second and few years back, in South Africa were happy to be paying the same rate for only 3 – 4mb per second, maybe even less. Why? The world has reached 100mb speeds or more but were are still lagging behind at 10mb maybe 20mb at a very hefty price. When the lockdown started, we started running around trying to figure out what to do next. As the days went by, the difficulties of connecting became more and more of a challenge. We tried to implement first world solutions to third world challenges. We left so many people behind when we introduced online learning without first determining who has access. The academic year is at risk of being cancelled because we don’t know how many kids we are not reaching in order to continue our school year. Teachers are probably reaching 50%, more or less, of their kids who have the means to access online content.
It is time that we look at our needs as a South African society and start addressing them. A relook at what we are doing, currently, and where we want to go from here. What is the actual cost of working from home? Throughout this world pandemic, people have shared their experiences of home offices and home schooling. There was an easier transition for those businesses that already had employees working from home, however introducing this business model at short notice presented challenges. As with any business decision, when it is difficult to adapt the only option left is to let employees go. We have seen, heard or read around the world how people have lost their jobs because business could not adapt quickly enough. We also seen companies forcing employees to come to work risking their health and that of the world. The economy cannot survive this so whether we like it on not we need to adapt.