Business and Internet age books espouse social groupings that categorise Western technologicalism, but often these groups are based around the availability of resources or access to tech amenities, but what happens when you have neither?
It was in the middle of the night when my father quietly prodded me: “Up ! Time to get up”. My two sisters followed. We stirred, then shuffled around moving in a deathly silence. There was one last hug and good bye from our mother.
Her soliloquy over the past few days that ‘she was our only mother’ resonated in the journey ahead. There would be no school in Tooting, South London, that Monday.
Instead, we were to embark upon a journey that would mesmerically take us to an airport, to board a plane, and then 7 hours later land in a country that unbeknown to us would be home for eight years.
Our welcome to Ghana was shocking personally and culturally. From the comforts of British metropolia we were supplanted into a village, 21 odd miles from Ghana’s second capital Kumasi.
Asokore was a world away from South London. No electricity, no television and no running water. To the locals we were a curio. British kids who spoke with an undulating ‘funny’ accent. Weeks later we were piled into a preparatory school as dad made off back to England.
When you have nothing, I particularly remember your basic needs are heightened. Austerity in Ghana in the late 70s and 80s was characterised by coup d’états and hyperinflation. Milk, bread and sugar, which you had to queue up for hours to buy, was a luxury.
In a boarding college I would subsequently attend years later, some seniors amplified the deep desire towards 3D — Determined, driven and desperate. A secret scheme operated below the school’s public image would lead to students faking the headmaster’s signature. The purpose, to inform any number of universities around the world how good they, the students, were.
It went by the name of Komso and proved highly successful for ambitious students who would not have stood any chance overcoming the minefield of obstacles getting into US, UK or Canadian institution.
Some were genuinely talented at what they did. Champion hurdlers, 400 metre sprinters, and a so called champion swimmer. The story is the student almost drowned on his first outing at an Ivy league school in the US. He’d never set foot into a pool in his life. At the end of that spectrum were holders of the equivalent of 12 GSCE’s grade As which mirrored the best of SAT scores 2100 plus.
Socially diverse networks
The dawn of digital and popularisation of ethnography has spawned several terms and books to capture social groupings, such as the Pro-am, Citizen professional, and Smart creative. In his widely received critique documenting the emergence of the professional amateur (Pro-Am) British theorist Charles Leadbeater wrote about the rappers, Linux developer Linus Torvald, and Ian Shelton an avid amateur astronomer who discovered supernova 1987A.9 using a 10” telescope.
Leadbeater noted how the enthusiasts are changing the world.
The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and
networked, by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by
large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams
are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be
innovative, adaptive and low-cost.
More recently, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt writes in How Google Works of the Smart Creative. She is described as:
A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade and plenty of hands-on experience. In our industry she is most likely a computer scientist…She is an expert in doing. She doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes… She is risky creative…She is self directed creative..She is communicative creative.
Schmidt’s lens of social dissection is obviously trained on the ecosystem of Google and the utopian creative. Throughout a litany of business books, the desire to capture and describe subsets of society who constitute a tech-social phenomenon is common place.
In Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jeremy Porass find the mitochondria for visionary companies. A long held belief and playing the long game are key findings.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak feature in any number of business books such as Start with Why. Wozniak built the Apple I in a shed, often making things up as he went along. In the chapter Assume you know Simon Sinek explains a truism encountered often by research students
Our behaviour is affected by our assumptions or our perceived truths. We make decisions based on what we think we know.
What many of these books admirably achieve is the effects of a well tuned business environment and advanced industries on individuals. Many of the success stories e.g. Jobs and Wozniak are in circulation, first captured in business magazines such as Newsweek firing the imagination for their bold spirit.
What if we inflect the common theme that is access to amenities and resources around Western societies, to one where the environment is strangled of the aforementioned? This is a world, and it’s a sizeable one, that exists in, amongst others, developing countries where individuals are driven, yet often deprived.
It’s a story of people single-minded in their pursuit that education will haul them out of an abyss. They rely on knowledge, aged somewhat and decrepit, from classical books in short supply and a dedication to finding small breaks to effect larger ones.
In a landmark television series: The United States of Africa produced in the late 90s between South Africa TV and Ghana state broadcaster, we focused upon the 3Ds. Some Ghanaians in South Africa claimed to be PhD researchers. They had resorted to selling fresh produce to make ends meet before their next push to Europe. Italy was the preferred destination.
3Ds and Social Networks
The theme of the 3Ds in the absence of technologicalism is uncommon to business books because financial success appears not necessarily a priority for its subjects, compared to the advancement of social and human capital.
The primacy is to make your life better, then effect the lives of those around you. It isn’t a story that fits the conventions of capitalism, where success is measured by IPOs and stock shares, but it exudes a powerful message commensurate with social — how to build human connections and impact change.
What might be called risks to those in Western suburbia manifest itself as necessity. You can’t take risks if you’ve nothing to lose.
In my PhD, I identified a group of innovatory news makers in the 1990s and by following up interviews with the group and senior UK broadcasting figures have been able to paint a portrait of how a group of non-television makers changed the landscape of UK broadcasting.
They were the guinea pigs for the BBC and ITV to adopt videojournalism. But I could only right about this group in an authorative way because I happened to be one of them.
Similarly, in reflecting upon the several business books I consume I recognise 3Ds from my experience living in Ghana. I acknowledge 3Ds exist in varying territories, but that culture and national attitudes sculptor different outcomes. Accelerated progress is kickstarted by what developed countries take for granted —availability of tech knowledge and access.
The story of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian teenager, is one of the relatively few examples that have found international publicity. Kamkwamba’s family could not longer afford his $80 a year school fees, so he ended up teaching himself. His eye on the prize was a windmill, built from junk, that would generate electricity for his village. Kamkwamba’s story can be found in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and a TED Talk.
Inherent to 3Ds appears an aspirational undercurrent fuelled by personal circumstances and a desire to go abroad. When the fortunate few make their journey into Western societies, traditional models of education appear problematic. Lectures delivered as part of a group, in the modular mode, can be confusing. As written about in Donald Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, coaching appears a more amenable model via the use of drilling exercises.
Their values tend to remain intact. Social capital is the norm. Listen to former masters student from Ghana Daniel Kofi (pictured) in this video I made eight years ago on “What one thing would you change?”
According to the IMF some of the world’s fastest growing economies include areas where social groups characterised as 3Ds in the digital age are located. But could the knowledge basin of countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire be accelerated by fostering new knowledge nodes, just as the West is undergoing its own social space evolution? At the University I lecture the classical structure of departments is being supplanted with new cross-discipline thinking. That’s the panoramic question that this research ultimately addresses.
Contact David for more details at the University of Westminster firstname.lastname@example.org. Below David presents at the annual International Business Summit at the Intercontinetal Hotel, London,
David is a Knight Batten Winner in Innovation in Journalism (US) and an international award-winning videojournalist (Berlin). His journalism career spans 27 years working for outfits such as Channel 4 News, ABC News and Newsnight. He’s spoken at international conferences e.g. SXSW, WAN and the IJF. His doctorate thesis examines the future of television and videojournalism. He lectures International Masters students in International Digital Media and Journalism. You can follow him on twitter at @viewmagazine and view more of his work on his website www.viewmagazine.tv