Is Africa Leading Innovation?


I watched the TED talk by Toby Shapshak, called You Don’t Need an App for That. Shapshak talked about innovation and Africa is crucial to our world’s progress. My first thought was very dismissive, as I didn’t think that made sense since we are surrounded by so much technology in America. The more I thought about it, the more evident it became that our “innovations” in recent years are more or less irrelevant. Social media and games on our iPhones or androids are not necessary, furthermore, they are a distraction from the real innovations that we need. In comparison, in Africa, their innovations are created out of necessity. There are severe energy problems in Africa, but perhaps it is their simplicity that allows them to be so innovative. Shapshak showed a map of the world and Africa was the “dark continent”. He said that it was actually where the most innovation happens, because in areas with the most electricity being used, the electricity is being used for distractions such as television and playing Angry Birds. This got me thinking about my own daily habits. I realized that I am constantly multitasking, and am even guilty of sometimes watching TV while doing work, or I’m checking my phone. I can imagine that everyone is guilty of these things, but in different ways, and on many different scales. I can imagine that corporations function in the same way. Multitasking is a way of life in our society, so we don’t always use our time in the most effective way. As a result, our innovations have begun to shift towards progress with these distractions. So, this means more apps, better social media outlets, more games and TV. In Africa, they are not surrounded by quite so many distractions so they are able to focus on the problems they face daily. For example, pay as you go was invented in Africa and is one of the most dominating economic forces in the world. It is so effective because it works on every phone possible since it works through SMS.

According to Shapshak, through these phones, Africans are able to increase their knowledge of their health, and even elevate themselves out of poverty. Not only did their pay as you go technology in phones improve their lives, but the new innovations that build off of pay as you go continue to solve more and more of their problems. What happened to the days where we truly innovated? Or are just producing more variations of the same thing? Years ago, Henry Ford invented the production line in order to increase their sales and this revolutionized not just the automobile industry, but many others that require complicated production processes. This TED talk opened my eyes to what innovation truly should be. He said we should thank Africa for all of the positive innovation it has contributed to our world. I couldn’t agree more, because the large majority of our “innovations” just prove to distract us more from our purpose and goals.

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