Opinion: Technology In Africa Is Viewed With A Western Bias

Opinion: Technology In Africa Is Viewed With A Western Bias


From BusinessDayLive. Story by Sue Blaine.

Out there is an Africa of ones and zeros, a digital Africa. A glimpse of it — and of African artists’ reactions to it — is to be found at Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery.

Artist Tegan Bristow specializes in interactive media and lectures in digital art at the University of the Witwatersrand. She’s curating the Post African Futures exhibition, which runs from May 21 to June 20.

Research by multinational management consultancy McKinsey shows that there are 167-million Internet users among the continent’s population of 1-billion, 67-million smartphones in Africa and 51.6-million Facebook users.

Yet, says Bristow, technology in Africa is all too often viewed with a Western bias. No one thinks of how technology affects, or is affected by, African culture.

“When we think technology, we think something that came from somewhere else and something that works or doesn’t work.”

Answering the question of how technology affects, or is affected by, African culture is something Bristow is exploring in her doctoral research through the UK’s University of Plymouth. It is a question she asked artists when she invited them to create works for the Goodman Gallery’s Post African Futures exhibition. She says she received “lots of interesting responses” to this question.

“Often people don’t understand me when I say ‘African culture of technology’. Surely, they say, a guy holding a cellphone in Johannesburg and a guy holding a cellphone in New York — this is the same thing.”

It is not the same even between Johannesburg and Nairobi, she says. “It’s not the hardware that we are looking at here, it is rather the multi-levelled cultural engagement with globalised media and globalised technology.”

The first mistake that is made is that Africa is most often viewed as one place, which brings about the idea that “everything that happens there is the same”; the second that Africa’s only interaction with technology is as a recipient of development and innovation from large multinationals such as Google or IBM. Of course, neither is true.

Africans across the continent interact with technology differently and they create new technologies so that there are different “cultures of technology” across Africa, says Bristow. The differences between these cultures of technology are reflected in the art that comes from different African countries.

Read more at  BusinessDayLive.