The story we have listened to and read about since September 2008 continues to make world news headlines in late 2012. It is like taking your child for coaching by top teachers and you give him expensive textbooks and the best geometry set and pocket calculator but he still gets a second grade in the exams. In real terms, he has done poorly, given all that advantage.
So are the United States and Western Europe today. Everything that can be done has been tried. Pumping in money; tax rebates; endless Eurozone summit meetings; interest rates at next to zero.
Despite all these efforts, these economies are limping barely above recession. Most students who complete American universities will spend the next 20 years of their careers paying off tuition debt (that’s if they can find good jobs). The posh and enviable lifestyle we once used to associate with Europeans is now starting to be a thing of the past.
Pace of technological change
In the area of technology, the trends are now pointing to the Internet as a platform that more and more people are getting onto via mobile devices. Computing is now turning into something similar to what the mobile phone did to fixed-line home and office phones.
Desktop and laptop computers are now becoming the LPs and CDs of the second decade of the 21st Century.
Even the websites we have been familiar with since the mid 1990s are themselves becoming what LPs, CDs and video tapes became. Where once we got onto the Internet via a website, the trend is now toward accessing the Internet via an “App”, a custom-built programme made for mobile devices like tablets, phones and electronic book readers.
All the major makers of phone hardware are under pressure. One single mistake, one product poorly designed, one operation got wrong and market share carefully gained is lost almost overnight.
Ten years ago, Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of the Blackberry phone was the fashionable pioneer in “smart phones”. In the last five years, its dominant market position has been eaten into by Apple Corporation after Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007.
Nokia, the Finnish phone maker, for several years was the world’s largest cell phone manufacturer, only for it to unexpectedly see the South Korean company Samsung replace it earlier this year as the world’s largest phone maker.
Microsoft Corporation, which in the 1990s enjoyed a mythical status in the world of computing and its co-founder Bill Gates the world’s wealthiest man, has found time and the pace of technology overtaking it and from having its Windows operating system on 90 per cent of the world’s computers in the late 1990s, today that has been cut drastically to just over 30 per cent.
Religion as a major force
In spite of this rapidly changing technological landscape, there is a development that few would have expected to see. It is the return of religion as a major force in world affairs.
It used to be that in the feudal Medieval World of the 13th Century and before, the church was the central institution in a nation and wars were fought over religious belief.
Most intellectuals of the 19th Century, especially those who leaned toward Marxism, would be shocked if they were brought back to life and saw how much religion, religious conflicts and religious interest and attendance dominates world news headlines these days.
In Mali, Islamist fighters now control the entire northern half of the country. In Kenya, there is a grassroots organisation campaigning to cut off the eastern part of the country and form an Islamic state.
In Tanzania, a 14-year-old boy was accused of urinating on the Qur’an, triggering off a rampage that included the burning down of several Christian churches.
The “Arab Spring” that the West and much of the world welcomed at the dawn of a new era in democracy was indeed the dawn of a new era. Except that in this version of democracy, political parties with what the West terms an “Islamist” philosophy came to power in Tunisia, Egypt and are dominant in Libya.
Orthodox growth in Russia
In Russia where for 74 years the Communist party frowned upon or had banned religion, there is now resurgence in the membership, strength and prestige of the Orthodox Church.
Religion is also on the rise in China and the United States. When the Norwegian militant Anders Brievik shot dead 77 people last year, a shocked nation saw thousands flock to churches for memorial services and to seek answers.
Considering that Norway is supposed to be one of the world’s most liberal and irreligious societies, it was interesting to see Norwegians re-discover that their country actually has churches, where most of us had assumed that church attendance is almost zero per cent and church buildings have been turned into social centres or refugee shelters.
In a 21st Century where technology and the scientific method were supposed to have been in full bloom, with increasing standards of living and with literacy spreading, this was not supposed to be happening. But it is.
It points to a reality of certain questions in life that technology and urban living alone cannot answer and religion is viewed as the only answer during turbulent times.
Persistent human error amid an information explosion. What I find most intriguing and sometimes alarming in all this, is the continued revelation of the flawed side of the human being.
In 2012, the world is a sophisticated place. Technology runs our daily lives. Literacy rates are on the rise and there is an explosion of Information, especially on the Internet.
For the first time in human history, more of the world’s population lives in urban areas than in villages. Democracy and multiparty elections are now the norm rather than exception. However, none of this has made humans more efficient and knowledgeable.
Every few months, we read about how Toyota has had to recall seven million cars just about to be shipped because they had a problem with their braking system, or Microsoft recalled four million boxes of a Windows product because of a design flaw.
Poor investment decisions and oversights are causing global banks to lose billions of dollars. The social networking company Facebook launched an initial public offering on the New York stock exchange the NASDAQ in May.
With all the resources at its disposal and its ability to hire top-rated financial consultants and advisors, Facebook still failed to read the public mood and financial position right and set its IPO price at $34. Since May 18, Facebook’s share price has plummeted by over 50 per cent. Could Facebook not see this coming?
In France, a country of highly educated and sophisticated citizens, they rejected Nicolas Sarkozy and elected the Socialist Franciois Holland, in the belief that Holland would turn around the ailing French economy.
Just months into his term, the French public realised that he was failing with his promises to revive the economy and Holland has since plummeted in the opinion polls.
The African contrast
If this was an African country dominated by a largely illiterate or semi-literate population, one would understand. But even in Europe, high literacy and widespread use of technology have not given voters the ability to discern the trends.
United States citizens, who live in an information-saturated and sophisticated society, similarly seem unable to use all that information and advanced knowledge to see clearly.
They elected George W. Bush twice, were disgusted with him by the end of his second term, invested all their emotions and hope in Barack Obama, could not see that Obama was never going to do much to halt America’s declining global economic dominance and many are now turning to Mitt Romney as an alternative to Obama.
In Uganda, some of the very best minds and most educated people still have a basic lack of knowledge of their own history, 50 years into independence. Modern technology and advanced education have not taken out the factor of human error from world affairs.