OCTOBER 1, 2014 By Murtala Mohamed Kamara
Last week as I was writing my blog post on the power of the internet and how it has revolutionized our world, the United States President Barack Obama, in his speech to the U.N General Assembly, was emphasizing the power of this tool and how it has empowered young people around the world.
His message was not just a perfect coincidence for this topic but President Obama reinforced my argument on the importance of this subject matter. He said: “Today, whether you live in downtown Manhattan or in my grandmother’s village more than 200 miles from Nairobi, you can hold in your hand more information than the world’s greatest libraries. Together, we’ve learned how to cure disease and harness the power of the wind and the sun. The very existence of this institution is a unique achievement — the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and to solve their problems together. I often tell young people in the United States that despite the headlines, this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.”
I have often said that I feel blessed to have lived in this digital age where almost everything is possible with the power of a smart phone, or mobile device. The internet has revolutionized our world and it has become a part of our lives. No wonder in some countries they are now pushing lawmakers to make access to internet a right issue.
The internet has simplified almost everything, from how we do business – e-commerce, to e-learning, e-health, and to even in our personal interaction. Now there is software for everything, and anything can be done or bought online. For instance, institutes can take online classes, and business and remote corporate can conduct training through Learning Management System (LMS) without having to call employees on-site. Moreover, LMS features such as mobile-friendliness, cloud hosting, robust security, gamification, enhanced data, and management tools, etc., can improve the experience for both, the trainer and the learner.
From desktops to lap tops, smart phones to even the hand watch, you can connect to this huge global network which is constantly evolving. The Google glass, which is expected to hit the market next year, allows people to check their emails, voice command their glasses to take picture or video, browse Facebook or get street directions.
Whether you need to buy an air ticket, book a hotel or hire a taxi on arrival at your destination, it can be done with the simple touch of your smart phone from anywhere in the world. Whether you are looking for a date or searching for an apartment, everything is now available online. Websites like www.ebay.com or www.amazon.com have given us the opportunity to buy and sell online.
You can set up a store online from the comfort of your bed room and sell items online and get payment directly. Take for instance www.checkmytrip.com or www.kayak.com, you can buy an air ticket online with your Visa or MasterCard, track flights, airport information, hire a taxi, convert currencies and even get advice on your packing list.
Today, we have more younger CEOs in their 20s more than ever in history. The internet has empowered many young people like myself and Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of the popular social networking website Facebook.
In May, 29, 2009, I became the first Sierra Leonean to launch the first ever online entertainment newspaper in Sierra Leone, www.salonejamboree.net. The site was a response to the growing calls for access to credible and timely information on the Sierra Leone entertainment industry. I didn’t think of the site as a business, I was just trying to create a platform to showcase Sierra Leone’s rich, untapped arts and entertainment industry.
Following its launching in May, the site recorded over fifty thousand hits in just one month. It became one of the most popular Sierra Leonean websites.
Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook, a website which was merely to link up university students but it later became the most popular social site in the world and turned the young CEO to a billionaire.
Facebook currently makes more than $20 billion a year, more than the annual economy of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia put together. The website has over 1 billion registered users with over 500 million daily active users. If Facebook was a continent, it could have been the 3rd largest in the world.
A friend at Atlas Communication in Freetown once said during a conversation that one has no reason not to know in this day of the internet. It has provided opportunities for us to improve ourselves and learn new skills. www.edx.org offers free online courses and classes from the world’s best universities including MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, UT and others. www.coursera.org is also offering free online courses from over 80 universities and organizations on various areas.
The internet has also given young people the power to make their voices heard on national issues. It is believed that everybody has a price, but with the internet, we say everybody has a voice. The internet has provided an opportunity for people’s participation on the governance process.
Unlike before, everyone – young or old, male or female – can set up a Facebook page or twitter account and ask questions to their authorities and demand answers. My Facebook page for instance has over 5000 friends and over 4000 followers; with a single post I can reach out to over 9000 people.
Although the internet has its disadvantage, we must also remember that it has the potential to get people out of poverty through new skills training and better quality of life.
In Geneva, Switzerland recently, at the Global Shapers Annual Curators Meeting, I was asked how I plan to use the lessons learnt to empower young Sierra Leoneans. I said my country has many challenges but I believe this tool can play a greater role to empower young people to learn new skills, change their mindsets, and startup new businesses, but we have to provide them access to the internet, training and mentorship. I said once we do that, they will in turn solve the rest of the other problems in the country.
The Malaysia model is a classy example of how governments are using this technology to empower their citizens.
Like Prof. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum puts it, the older generation doesn’t know how these tools work. He said young people are the gatekeepers of this planet and it is our duties to mentor the older generation about the enormous impact of technology and its opportunities.