Abuja, Nigeria: In 1873, Jules Verne wrote the masterpiece, “Around the World in 80 Days”. In the book, set in 1872, Phileas Fogg made a bet with the members of his Club that he could travel around the world in 80 days. The bet was epic. Newspapers wrote about it, various groups conducted meetings concerning it, even national debates were held about it.
To understand the enormity of the task that Phileas Fogg faced, we need to understand the world in 1872. There were no cars, no airplanes. The railway was locomotive and the Trans-Continental Railway had only just been completed. He could not book rides or hotels. In Africa and India, there were barely motorable roads (indeed in India, he ended up riding on an elephant!).
After the agreed 80 days, he accomplished the feat and the world went agog. Keep in mind that “the world” in 1872 , comprised mainly of London, India, New York and Cairo to the exclusion of so many other cities and countries as we know it today. The majority of the African continent was still under British rule and other regions were yet undiscovered. This raises the question of what we consider to be the “world”, and who defines it – but that is perhaps a topic for the morrow. For how do we truly see the world as held in a place without delving into it headfirst? How do we visit a place when we have not heard the natives speak? Danced their dance? Lived their fears?
In 1872, it certainly would have been acceptable to regard these cities and these cities only as “the world”. Technology was not very advanced to help them explore more places and hear from more people in distant parts of the world. Fast forward to 2017, and using the internet, new places it would seem, spring forth everyday. We can see photos of the streets of Lagos in Nigeria from our cute apartments in Paris. We scroll miles with out thumbs and enjoy unlimited access to terabytes of data round the clock. Companies and global organizations make decisions that will affect the lives of millions of people based on snapshots and data gathered from computers, to mention but a few.
I write for Eco Warrior Princess, an organisation with its head office in Australia, while living in Abuja, Nigeria. Jennifer Nini, my Warrior Editor connected me to Jennifer Nnamani, a fellow Nigerian in New York City and in the space of two weeks, the entrepreneur sat on the chair across mine in a meeting we had scheduled through the social media platform Instagram.
We discussed the manner in which we had been connected and came to an irresistible conclusion; it’s a small world indeed. Mankind has come a long way. We have been to the moon, we can talk to anyone in any part of the world at the push of a button. The world has indeed become a small place. But has it really become a better place? I think, Not really.
With all the advances in technology, one would think that the world could be better. Certainly, a people who had sent man into space can provide healthcare to their citizens on earth. If we could send missiles to another continent, surely we should be able to send aid as well.
It turns out this is not the case.
We are not using technology to make the world a better place, we have used it to create a bubble to live in.
In a world of Netflix and unlimited entertainment choices, realities such as the war in Yemen kind of fade into the background. Why look at the homeless man on the way to the store when you can order the food delivered to your house using Uber Eats?
In the few times that something bursts through this bubble, we receive news that makes us want to burrow deeper into our shells. Xray Nigeria through the wide lens of the internet and you will most likely cull up reports of the Boko Haram insurgency in the region. Nothing about the millions of youths with mind-blowing innovations in tech, no play by play of the evolution of the country’s movie sector or the colourful histories of so many ethnic groups in the region. We retreat further into our bubbles.
What if technology has not solved the problems of this world but only made them easier to forget? With Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning, we don’t even have to make the choices ourselves. Instagram shows us the pictures it believes we would want to see. Netflix and YouTube gives us daily recommendations so that we very easily hear what we want to hear, when we want to hear it, and watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it. It is not very difficult these days to tune out the stark unpleasantness of reality in everyday living. To keep our consciences clear; and blame it all on the computers.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to start writing for EWP. I read Jennifer’s work and realised she was living outside ‘the bubble’. When I write these pieces, I do not presume to have all the answers. I just hope that I can inspire myself to ask the right questions.
It is a small world; now when will we decide to make it a better world?