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Friday, January 27, 2012

tech mo loyo gi

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic~ Arthur C Clarke.

There is a play on words that only makes sense if you understand both Luo and English. Tech mo loyo gi. This is a phrase that my family uses to describe technological advancements that one of us is unable to use or fathom. The translation of the phrase is its so hard that its defeated people. This coupled with the fact,  that it sounds like technology makes it one of those rare double entrendres  that only works in translation.

So this is a post about technological differences.

Every city has a drama or a comedy if you just sit and watch the street long enough, something that sets your heart racing or keeps you laughing. In Norway its the bus runs. The bus system is hopelessly well organised. There are blinking displays that tell you how far away a bus is from the stage you are standing at. There is a low~tech version of this which is simply a poster with bus routes and times, you look at it and see that the bus will come at 5:11 then 5:21 then 5:31. as a consequence of organisation lateness is frowned upon. If you miss a bus you have to wait ten minutes for the next one or maybe longer so when a bus is parked somewhere you run. You don't jog, you sprint all out.

We were standing outside our hostel one day as this group of four girls passes us  and begin to run. High in their heels, slippery  on the ice, careful of their beauty they began to sprint. The bus was two streets away and across the road. This was about 3OO metres of run time and they decide to do it. The bus had just pulled in and that gave them about 1 minute to make it. These are not bolting speeds but its still pretty fast for a group of people in heels who have to take care of the ice. We stood and watched as they ran.

200 metres.

Still the bus waited.

100 metres.

Even our breaths were baited, I thought maybe someone had told the bus driver to stop. There is a point in life when you have to decide what you are watching, comedy or drama. If I decide I'm watching a comedy then I want them to miss the bus, I want them to slip and fall on the ice, misery is the better outcome. If however I am watching a drama its David and Goliath, the stone of effort flung at the giant of time. The underdog overcoming adversity and trouble to come out on top.

5O metres.

Baited breath means you're watching a drama. And like all good dramas they didn't make the bus. This doesn't take away from the awesomeness of the bus system.

One of my friends misplaced her phone at a conference, the organising committee president found it and called himself, he then went online on his phone accessed a certain application and was provided with all her personal details. Cool.

This is simple, we could institute it at home if we recorded everyone’s information and had no qualms about making it public. There are a lot of debates about privacy and anonymity that accompanies the using of such a program. It means someone somewhere has your phone number and all your details, passport or otherwise stored on a computer somewhere. But still. Cool.



In Kenya look right and left before you cross the road, in any country where English is not the official language look left then right. In Norway look straight. If the green man appears to be walking don't bother with anything else, don't question your right to the road, walk down the street, be sure.

You access google maps on your i-phone{well other people do} and you know how many minutes walk this place is from that one, but the huge airport in Amsterdam has an analog version of this, a map that tells you where you are and points you in the right direction, to gate C or D or whatever and tells you approximately how many minutes walk it is from where you are.

The keys here have an electronic sensor. You stick it into the lock and it glows green if you are putting it in the right hole, red if you're not. I have a sneaking suspicion that as soon as you haven't paid they can disable the keys so they don't work any more. Cool. Butin  the door in he hallway you turn the key right, in the room you turn it left. Why they have differences I can never know.


Trains, trams and buses using the same piece of land. Criss-crossing routes that need a high degree of care. You have to listen to the traffic lights, you have to drive sober, you have to drive slow since ice can slip. You need discipline.

Of all the innovations I have seen here my favourite by far is woolen underwear. We don't need this at home, we really don't. Woollen underwear is something you wear when its really cold so that you can feel normal again. There is no such thing as bad weather they say here only bad clothes. True story. Completely true. You put those on and you walk out into the snow and cold and you feel OK. Then you take them off at night and itch and itch and itch. Well nothing's perfect.

In the end the technology here is not unachievable. It is not indistinguishable from magic, the analog companions I have put up as counterparts in some cases proves this but having them has still defeated us, because you need discipline if you won't drive drunk, past traffic lights, you need order if you can ever tell exactly when a bus will arrive, you need research to know how many minutes walk one place is from another. Its not difficult to have these things even back home but its still tech mo loyo gi.