[EN] Tribune - The Millennium APE - by Buma Kor
[This article was written and published in a leading Cameroonian newspaper, The Herald, on the eve (1999) of the beginning of the 21st Century to alert African decision makers of the long lasting effects of New Technologies on our normal lives and take appropriate measures to contain it. Was this forward-looking advice adhered to? Your answer is as good as ours. What is the situation in your own country today? We would like to hear from you.]
The whole world was confronted with a frightening realization as we approached the year 2000. It had become fashionable for many people to work with computers and many more depended on the efficiency of computerized machines and digital equipment’s. In many countries of the two-thirds world where electricity supply is unreliable, this efficiency translated into many hours lost waiting for power to be reestablished. In the meantime, skilled labour sits idle and time flies!
If this was not enough to keep us thinking there was the fear that even the computers to which we had attached so much importance in accomplishing our regular tasks would stop working by the year 2000! The problem was the calendar system in the computers which was not configured originally to detect zero options. This problem became known as the “Millennium Bug”. Then, it was a threatening problem for which many hours were devoted to finding a solution. Not without doubt, however, the solution was speedily found before the
cross over to the new millennium. For the year 2000, which saw the beginning of the third one thousand years since the death of Jesus Christ, would be dominated by the use of computers and digital systems.
Hence, the age of explosion of the use of new technologies. We could not fully decipher then what this new age would bring but the many possibilities that the computer, the telephone and digital systems had exposed us to was something worth thinking about. The evidence of a global village was no more farfetched any more than living in cyber space! What this meant, therefore, was that “knowledge” would be the dominant factor to characterize the homo sapiens of the computer age. And not just any type of knowledge but scientific, technological, communicable knowledge. If anyone would survive in the global village therefore he/she must start acquiring the basic tools for obtaining this type of knowledge.
This was far serious and dangerous a predicament with greater consequences than the millennium bug presented. Unfortunately, many countries in Africa were not contemplating this phenomenon yet! The impact of the global village had not dawned on many African decision-makers in the same degree as the imminent millennium bug. But just imagine the effects of illiteracy now on socio-economic development characterized by decadence, irresponsibility, poverty, lack of civilized behavior, wanton desire to wage war, hostilities emanating from our untamed animal nature, etc. The fact that in our development planning we gave and still give little thought to this phenomenon was evidenced in our unpreparedness to set a precise time-table for eradicating illiteracy.
The World Book Day, celebrated every April 23, offered our decision makers and ourselves the occasion to be reminded of the catastrophe of the upcoming global village pandemic. For illiteracy, indeed, is a disease that eats up knowledge and in the global village, it would show itself up as a “bookless society” with devastating effects. A bookless society would confront us with far greater disadvantages of living normal human lives than we have coped with illiteracy. Imagine us returning to the age of the ape where there was no book culture! Just imagine again that we would be the apes of the next millennium without books and without knowledge!
It is up to us now to cultivate a book culture. It is up to our decision makers to grasp the devastating effects of a bookless society in the coming global village and plan long-term strategies for eradicating illiteracy. It is up to politicians to stake their own survival in the global village by calling for and enacting far-reaching national book policies and strategies for sustaining a book culture.
Otherwise, we will be building a nation whose people will be no more than Millennium Apes. Such a people will be incapable of functioning in the global village. Is that what we would like to be ? Let’s think about this and begin erecting structures for eradicating nation-wide illiteracy and the devastating effects of ever living in a bookless society in this new information, communication and technological (ICT) age.