Paradigms are overrated

People use the Highway as a paradigm for the internet, but the African highway tends to ignore the pedestrians who must cross it.

Paradigms are overrated but sometimes paradigms can be interesting.

I found Bheki Khumato’s talk fascinating, I couldn’t see what someone like him was doing in a media conference. There where loads of contradictions in his talk but he did make some interesting points and he talked a language different from what I come to expect from politicians (it might be the normal thing in South Africa, I wouldn’t know, but he wasn’t anything like Arab politicians).

But what struck me most (apart from the Al Jazeera thing) was not the points he made but the paradigms he used.

He said people use the Highway as a paradigm of the Internet, but let’s examine the African highway. The African highway tends to ignore the pedestrians who must cross or walk on the highway, and the result is high mortality rates on our highways and they tend to be poor people in poor transports or pedestrians crossing the highway (in Egypt there are towns split by the highway, children have to cross it in the fog to get to school).

And from that, Bheki built on the paradigm, making a point that we should look hard at how to avoid recreating the same inequalities on the information highway. He warned of "adopting the familiar colonial posture of charity", stating that it is not enough to slow down from time to time to pick a hitchhiker. Instead, we need to make sure that the hitchhiker gets behind a steering wheel of her own.

But history is more effective than paradigms, and he did mention plans for "qualified voting" that where proposed back in the days of the apartheid. Qualified voting means the rich, more educated and "more civilized" blacks would be allowed to vote.

Well the point he’s making is that only those rich enough and educated enough would be allowed to vote under these schemes, and only those rich enough and educated enough are on the internet these days…

Interesting, no? On the otherhand this seems to be what the conference was about, just an attempt at coming up with new ways to describe what we all already knew.