I just spent the last two weeks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I was over there to have a wedding and then go on honeymoon. Before I left the United States, I decided that I would get a prepaid line in Zimbabwe, with roaming capabilities in Mozambique. In this way. I would have a way to communicate while traveling. We went in to the phone store to purchase a line and air time and that, in and of itself, was a tale to tell. We came out of the store with almost no idea what we had. After telling the cashier in the phone store what we wanted to use our line for, she suggested that we buy $20 in air time and sent us on our way. We had no idea how much time we could spend on the phone, what the roaming rates would be while we were in Mozambique and we had no clue what was going on with our data. As a long time cellphone user, I was pretty sure that I could figure it all out.
Well, it turns out that sometimes a new system can be more complicated than one can imagine. I realized, pretty quickly, that I would have done well to have received an instruction manual or some basic training. I would have tried to search for information online, except I had no idea how to activate my data. After figuring out how to convert some of my air time minutes into data, I made a call to customer service to receive instructions on how to actually activate data on my phone. After a second call, I actually got data to work but I had no idea how to track my data use, how much data I was using or how much data I had left to use. The data availability was very erratic; sometimes I had it and then, randomly, it would be gone. When I asked a friend, who has recently moved to Zimbabwe, how it all worked he said that he couldn’t understand any of it. So I decided to enjoy my vacation, appreciate any data I did get and not sweat the stretches of time when I had no data at all.
Because we were moving around a lot, we also had very limited access to wi-fi. As a result, we spent a very lo-tech fortnight. Because I could not always get the internet to work, I was never able to Google anything. I was forced to remember what I had learnt about something or to perhaps wonder whether I had learnt it at all. It turns out that the people we spent time with also had a very different relationship with the internet than I have been accustomed to. Not once during the two weeks we were in Southern Africa did a person consult Google during a discussion. Conversations were very interesting – a group of five people could end up with five very different recollections of an event – what happened, who was involved, what the outcome was and what was behind the action. These conversations would be fascinating because as a listener, I would have to decide, all by myself, what to believe. Without access to the convenience of an internet search, I had to think things through and choose whether to be analytical or emotional when coming to some conclusions (or at least how to balance my approach). It was fun and refreshing to give my brain this workout and it also led to some very exciting and, sometimes, very funny conversations.
Though I return to my easy (and, at times, lazy) access to internet information, I hope that I do not forget the lessons of my brain exercise. I really do appreciate the reminder that it is important to unplug at times and take time to listen, think and work things out. Having technology is incredibly useful and beneficial but one must not depend on technology at the expense of processing information and reaching conclusions using our brains. This is a vital thing to remember, especially is this age of big data. Having a lot of data and not knowing how to use it, what questions to ask of it or what it all really means is as useful as not having any information at all – at times it may even be more dangerous.
I am very happy to be able to get data at the touch of a button but I am also glad to be reminded to use my head more, ask questions and consider my possible answers.