For the first time, I was able to install a personal WiFi network, giving me unlimited access to the internet. The connection I have most likely is not the fastest, yet it works.
This new found freedom confused me at first. The only time my computer or phone used to be connected to a Wifi network was in an internet café, most likely trying to fill job application letters or meet a deadline. I sit there cradling a 20-something Br macchiato for hours, avoiding the stares of the waiters.
It is different now, though. There is a great deal of information at the tip of my fingers, even more than had I been using with mobile internet. It made me think about all that I had missed in this world, which was more vibrant and exciting than the often shallow milieu of social media.
Many young people would benefit from having this access. In this day and age, there is plenty to be done and learn in the connected world.
A good friend of mine started a candle making business by putting the internet to excellent use. She provides personalised wedding decorations. Having never known anyone who makes candles, I was intrigued by her new found skills.
She tells me she learnt the skill online, “I just watched a few YouTube videos”.
Even the casual manner with which she described it did not prevent me from admiring her.
She is not alone. Some people pick up skills when given the opportunity to explore the internet uninterrupted. I may not be a premier example of this, often getting lost on the barrage of cute puppy videos that seem to be offered endlessly on YouTube, but it is not hard to grasp the importance of having access to considerable amount of information on the internet.
I have often felt that there are many skilled but unidentified writers in Ethiopia. Many youths all over Ethiopia, when asked about their hobbies, would say writing, especially girls in the rural areas. This is usually a result of not being allowed to go far from home, leaving them with fewer choices than their male counterparts. All one needs to write is scraps of paper, which can be salvaged from old notebooks, and a pen – nothing fancy.
One of my favourite memories of my work travelling around lesser-known towns in Ethiopia is a girl who had to drop out of school because of financial constraints and had handwritten two short novels and countless poems. Her work remains undiscovered, as does that of many young people’s.
Universal access to the internet can be made a reality in Ethiopia. A friend of mine from Uruguay once shared with me a story of her small and poor town of Montevideo, where WiFi routers have been installed on the streets at certain distances to one another for young people to connect to the internet.
Other African countries such as Kenya and Rwanda are also gaining considerable momentum in technological advancements because of the unlimited access they can offer their citizens, particularly the youth.
I admit that the six-day ICT Exhibition at Millennium Hall could have been inspiring to the youth. But some of the features of the Expo, such as the emphasis on robotics, feel like ideas that need stepping stones to get to.
We do need young people to be the drivers of the next stage of socioeconomic development. But that can only be achieved by thinking outside the box. And the proverbial box is not only preventing us from moving forward, it is dragging us backwards.
The power of the internet is really beyond scrolling on Facebook or hashtags on Instagram. Much of the knowledge lies on the path less travelled. The difference between getting a scholarship and taking night schools could all be a matter of filling out an application online.
The probability of getting a good job will increase if only we had that extra moment online to create a LinkedIn account and learn to edit our cover letters properly.
Unfortunately, talents are left undiscovered, and the nation fails to get skilled human power, merely because many people find it too expensive and time-consuming to connect.
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