The biggest impacts often come from the seemingly smallest technological advancements: food-ordering apps, instagram, Pokemon Go. They not only make something rapidly accessible, but they do so in a way that highlights its huge role in our lives (or makes it a huge role in our lives). The same can be seen all over the world, but with arguably higher stakes. You open up the paper pull up your news app and see stories of other apps that are helping prevent deforestation through geo-tag reporting, improving democracy by disseminating knowledge and creating transparency in elections, mapping violence, and bringing mobile bank to rural villages.
Clearly, technology can not only solve problems, but also it can empower people. One study found that by “bringing internet access to the 4.1 billion people in the world who do not have it would increase global economic output by $6.7 trillion…, raising 500 million people out of poverty.” Yet, even if the world can overcome the barrier of affordable internet access, how do we guarantee that the gains are felt equally, by everyone? Unsurprisingly, a “report said the benefits of rapid digital expansion had been skewed towards the better-off and the more highly skilled, who were better able to take advantage of the new technologies.”
If you follow this line of thinking, it leads you to further areas of inequity. In order for people to be “better-off and more highly skilled,” they must be better educated. Looking at Africa specifically, some argue “if we don’t change education we’re not going to change Africa. It’s just that simple.” However, “only 24% of people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity.” How do you learn about something you can’t even plug into?
Such are the anachronisms of 21st-century Africa, where digital innovations are trumpeted daily, but where large swaths of society have not even experienced an agricultural revolution, let alone a technological one.
Ultimately, while technological development is an important piece of the puzzle, it cannot make up for plain, old, dial-up development: investment, infrastructure, ingenuity. Technology will not alleviate all our problems, but it will help to pinpoint them, and offer us a path toward a solution.