I might belong to the “Born Before Computers” generation, but I decided long ago that I was not going to allow myself to be intimidated by the lack of knowledge of something that I could easily learn. So I try to keep up with technology.
Last Friday, I got a letter through the post; a letter with stamps on it and it was quite an event. I hadn’t seen an envelope with stamps on it for a long time. Indeed, I hadn’t seen a Ghana stamp for years.
The arrival of the letter got me all excited and sentimental, the word “quaint” came to mind. Then I started wondering why the letter writer had not simply sent me an e-mail, or telephoned me with the information or had the letter delivered by courier. I wondered if there was a hidden message.
As I was working out where to place this letter in the new scheme of conducting businesses in Ghana, my mind went to a certain Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, Vice-President of the Republic.
I was certain he would be horrified to discover that we are still writing and sending letters, date stamped October 9 which get to addresses that are three kilometers away, on October 18.
Anybody who has heard our Vice President speak, knows that Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia is very keen that we all go digital. He is at his most passionate and persuasive when he is talking about digitization.
He is threatening that the Ghanaians economy will be completely digitized within the next three of five years.
I have been cheering him on and doing my best to join the digital bandwagon. I have proudly posted my digital address on the gatepost of my house.
I give my digital address to people and I find that increasingly, many people find their ways to the house using the Ghana Post app, even though there is a determined group that still sticks to the “opposite the blue kiosk” address format.
I have mastered Mo-Mo, about which I shall have more to say later.
I have had video calls from shops so I can accept or reject goods when someone is shopping for me. My car tells me when it is due to be serviced.
I know we are not quite at the stage yet where no one handles cash and all commercial transactions are conducted by holding a Smartphone over a barcode, but I know we shall be getting there.
Even though I pride myself as being part of the digitization drive, I find that I am hesitating about some of the advances.
I used to be quite good at finding my way to places because I took notice of landmarks and other distinctive marks wherever I went, now unless a voice on the phone tells me to turn left after fifty metres, I am completely lost. I wonder if that means there is a part of my brain that is no longer being used.
It seems there is no hiding place in the digitized world.
Once upon a time, you could claim that you were at an inaccessible place and that would be enough reason to turn down an offer of a visit. These days, you will be asked to send your location map.
Very soon, you cannot even give a false excuse of blaming the traffic for arriving late for an appointment, because the person you are meeting can and will be monitoring your journey from start to finish and can tell if indeed there had been a traffic hold-up on the way. He would be giving you alternative routes.
I was ever so proud of myself when I mastered Mobile Money, or Mo-Mo, as I hear it being called, because I thought I would tick that as being part of my road to full digitization, but now I am beginning to think it is not such a great idea.
It used to be that if you got a call or an urgent message asking for money, you had the option, the liberty, the space of saying you didn’t have any cash at home, you would send to the bank or would send it if someone was coming.
Now, once the demand comes, it appears you are expected to send money immediately. All the former legitimate excuses for delay and giving you some breathing space have disappeared.
Our fate has been further sealed with the introduction of Dr. Bawumia’s interoperability. You can’t even say you are on Vodafone and he person making the request is on MTN.
It strikes me that Mo-Mo is a one-way traffic phenomenon; there are the senders and there are the receivers. When I say I have mastered Mo-Mo, it only means I know how to send money, I doubt that I will ever receive mobile money and I will, therefore, never know what happens when you are sent money.
In much the same way as my letter with the stamps arrived and I couldn’t work out where to place it in our digitized set up, I am mystified that people who were born after the redenomination of the cedi still refer to one million, when they mean one hundred cedis.
I know many people are convinced that an announcement that you have donated a million cedis at a funeral, sounds more impressive than having donated a hundred cedis, but where does that fit in a digitized economy?
I might worry about there being no hiding place in a truly digitized economy, but I think I would still vote for that any day. A recent experience reinforced this and I have to agree with Dr. Bawumia that digitization is the answer to many of our problems.
I believe many people have now heard the story of the digitized Driver, Vehicle and Licensing Authority (DVLA) and how well it is functioning. I can now testify from personal experience and it gives me the greatest pleasure to say that parts of Ghana are certainly working.
I had misplaced my driver’s licence, or lost it, I couldn’t find it and I needed a new one. Wait for this, all they needed was my full name and date of birth and they found my details in their records. The service was pleasant, fast and efficient and a very satisfied customers left with a smile on her face and a song in her heart.
Indeed, there was a postscript that perhaps needs telling.
The charming young lady who served me told me at the end she knew when I got my first driver’s licence. Well, the date of my first driver’s licence is one of those dates firmly fixed in my mind, so I dared her to tell me.
January 20, 1970, she said, and added there was nobody in their office who had been born by then. How did she know this, I asked, for that indeed was the date of my first driver’s licence.
“It is in our records”, she said, “as long as your date of birth doesn’t change, we can always find everything in our records.”
Therein lies the secret, unchanging date of birth, digitized data equals a modern economy, taxes, certificates, voter card, national ID, driver’s licence. You can’t hide.