Do we look like idiots? What’s with our arrested development?

You wouldn’t think that South Africa is connected to the rest of the world by the same Internet as everyone else.  Sometimes I wonder if South Africa isn’t in some way still isolated from the rest of the world and on some kind of delayed schedule when it comes to developments in technology.

A case in point is the recently announced blogging service called iBlog which “introduced” the blogging phenomenon to South Africa.  ITWeb published the story about a month ago:

Capetonians Mark Garbers and Tim Price have created a Web site they say is aimed at introducing more South Africans to blogging (Web logging).

“Blogging is relatively unknown in SA, which is about four years behind the UK, US and Europe, where blogging is already extremely common and popular,?? says Garbers, who is based in the UK.

The statement that South Africa is “about four years behind the UK, US and Europe” is probably not far from the truth.  The question is why we are so far behind these developed markets (not to mention most of Asia)?  Who is responsible for this lag?  Are we South Africans naturally averse to change and developments overseas?  If you look at the uptake of (relatively) new mobile technology such as 3G and, more recently, HSDPA, it doesn’t see to be the case.

So if we are not reluctant to adopt new technologies into our lives, why is a phenomenon like blogging still unknown in South Africa and treated like this amazing new thing by our media (which also misrepresents what blogging really is by ignoring its potential uses).  I wonder if the media even understands what blogging is and its potential application not just in our personal lives but in the business world.

It goes beyond blogging.  Every year some analyst predicts that some established technology will rise to the fore in the coming year.  Well, someone should tell us what will be big in the coming year, I suppose.  But must analysts keep telling us, year after year, that the same technology is going to be “IT” in the coming year?  An example of this is VOIP which, although hampered by the general absence of a true broadband service, has been around for years in one form or another.

How long will it be before social networking becomes the hot topic here?  When will the media start talking about this new thing, you know, Web 2.0?  Maybe the wheel will become fashionable again!

Unfortunately it doesn’t get much better when you look at what some of our developers are doing here either.  If our media sets the pace of our technological and trend awareness then these developers exploit that ignorance for their own benefit by offering services and products that are expensive and downright mediocre by international standards.  An example of mediocrity is the iBlog service I mentioned above.  Anyone who is familiar with WordPress, a popular blogging platform, and the free hosted service in particular, will immediately recognise the iBlog back-end as a dumbed down version of the user-friendly WordPress back-end.  Mark Garbers and Tim Price have put together a decent offering, especially considering their service supports most of our official languages, but they haven’t done our emerging blogging community any favours by giving them a stripped down service.  It is almost as if they believe that South African Internet users are pretty unsophisticated and shouldn’t be allowed to use a steel knife and fork and should be given plastic cutlery lest they hurt themselves.

The popularity of the iBlog service and the widespread use of mobile phones by South Africans who can’t afford fixed line telephony suggest that South Africans can be trusted with cutting edge developments on the Web.  There is no need for the South African public to be four years behind the rest of the connected world, even given our lousy levels of Internet access (I am trying really hard not to turn this post into another anti-Telkom rant).  The fact that we are so far behind means that the media is not doing its job properly and local businesses are not pushing the envelope enough.

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