Where there’s a Web there’s a Way. Or is there?

Minister Sinon leading the way in laying fibre optic cables in May 2012 (photo Nation.sc)

The cable has landed! And with it the promise of better, faster & cheaper connectivity to what is known as the world wide web, internet or cyberspace. And with that hyper connectivity the promise of a change-making transition that would revolutionize the way we work and live. Transforming from an information to a knowledge economy by advancing human to human, human to machine, and machine to machine interactions.

Certainly the enhanced connectivity and visibility will be vital for sustainable development. One of the main constraints hindering Seychelles’ development is its geographical position – we are far from markets, and financial & knowledge centers. Increased cyber access to markets will give us the possibility new jobs and livelihoods through different business start-ups and economic opportunities. Access to the global knowledge society can bring new learning, ideas, innovation and partnerships. One example of this would be so called ‘cloud’ services, which allow sharing and processing of intellectual information and data by providing a global platform for collaboration.

People will be able to have faster e-conferencing and online meetings, thus saving time and money. Importantly for sustainable development these e-connections will reduce Seychelles carbon footprint. Seychelles currently has the largest per-capita carbon footprint in Africa. This is a consequence of our dependence on imports and on international tourism, but also on our own overseas travels. We may not need to travel as much if business can be done in cyber space. Some years ago I uploaded a Power Point presentation with my own voice digitally added on to be shown at a UN meeting without my physical presence there. With the arrival of the fiber optic cable though, so much more will be possible. Imagine being able to give fully interactive lectures (over the internet) to entire rooms of people, thereby sharing both information and expertise.

However, a large percentage of traffic carried over the internet is content for the purpose of entertainment and social networking. This includes everything from iTunes files, Facebook updates & BitTorrent traffic, to on-line gaming, video streaming and more. Many Seychellois will be very happy with the “infotainment”. But, as has happened elsewhere, it may not promote creativity, innovation and drive because so much of it is designed to be received in a passive manner.
Of course the ICT companies will want to make as much money as possible out of the new capacity, and will ensure that infotainment content takes precedence over other traffic because there is so much more profit to be made from these ‘top drawer’ services.

As we enter what may be the re-architecturing of our society, we must remain acutely aware of cultural, political, religious and privacy concerns. All manner of things from pornography to online purchasing will crowd our TVs, computers, phones, and other devices. The cable is not only a promise of better things to come, it will also test the limits of our understanding of who we are and what we want ourselves, our children and our country to be.

Nirmal Shah, The People 21 June, 2011