When I was in college, I drove a questionable minivan. I said questionable because the sounds it made scared the crap out of everyone except for me. One day, I was walking out of a store, and my hands were full. This woman asked me which car was mine and offered to get the door for me.
“It’s fine — I have to unlock the door anyway,” I said, as my hand fumbled for the keys.
“You don’t have a clicker?” she asked.
I said, “no,” not knowing that was the most appalling response in the world, but, apparently, it was.
With a disgusted face, she shooed me away. And, as she turned her back to me to walk away, she shouted, “Get a new car!”
Now, I didn’t think my minivan was someone else’s lost treasure, but I didn’t think it was trash either. She sure did though — and all because I didn’t have keyless entry. Keep in mind, this was around 2006. And, even though the technology has been around for a while, it didn’t become common use until the late ’90s or early 2000s. I used to think that woman was crazy — like she was the only person who thought something was completely useless just because it wasn’t the newest version. But, as time continues to pass, I realize she’s not crazy.
People want the newest and the best, and they want it now. But, not everyone has the privilege.
Let’s use Africa as an example.
When it comes to broadband coverage, there’s not a lot, and most of it is still 2G. They might as well just fill up a car that doesn’t have Bluetooth with their old phones and drive it off a cliff, right?
The wireless coverage in the U.S. is wildly different than that of Africa. Looking at a map, the vast majority of the U.S. — excluding Alaska — shows 4G LTE coverage. On the east side of the Rocky Mountains, there are just tiny specks of white, representing areas of no coverage. While there are a few larger areas without coverage in the mountains and to the west, this is mainly due to the rough terrain, which also makes these locations uninhabited or sparsely populated. Going to back to Alaska, it’s not something to blow off that it’s only one state without coverage — Alaska makes up almost one-fifth of the U.S. land mass. However, with only 2% of the country’s population, it’s my assumption that most of the area without coverage is almost entirely uninhabited.
Africa, on the other hand, appears to have coverage in less than half of the continent. There are very large areas with no coverage at all, and, in the areas that do have coverage, it’s mostly 2G or 3G — very few spots are shown to have 4G LTE coverage. Several of these countries are poverty stricken and probably just can’t afford the infrastructure. Additionally, I’m sure there’s some political reasons behind this as well. Likewise to Alaska, though, it’s possible that much of this area is also uninhabited.
What about the parts that are inhabited though? What do they do? Most people in the U.S. can't seem to function in life unless they have the very latest version of the iPhone. I mean, would an iPhone 7 even work anymore? The answer is yes.
In fact, just about any smartphone will. Now, you may not have three different camera lenses to take professional quality photos or a touch screen to play Temple Run on the very first Android that ever existed. But, do you want to know what you can do? You can send an receive money in Africa. That's right. Have you ever heard of M-PESA?
I hadn't. At least, not until recently. In a nutshell, M-PESA is a high-tech concept in a low-tech world. Using nothing but SMS messaging, individuals can securely transfer electronic funds person to person or person to retailer.
I was really surprised to learn about fintech solutions in Africa, but it's actually quite simple. You see, an individual visits an authorized retailer to register for an account. Upon registration, the user will receive a text with a PIN. The user can either deposit cash at the vendor in exchange for electronic funds that can be spent at other retailers, transferred to other individuals, or withdrawn as cash at another time/location. Both users and vendors receive a confirmation text for every transaction and can, therefore, maintain secure transmissions.
I know that seems like no big deal. But, we're on the verge of 5G here. This is a big deal for 2G networks. But, it's possible. So, that got me wondering — what else is possible with the technology of the past? What did we miss? What did we waste? And, if we found ways to work smarter with what we already have, could we reverse the footprints of our carbon path? Could we maintain sustainability?