There is a snake in my computer!

On: April 23, 2009
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About Guido van Diepen
Guido van Diepen is a freelance journalist and cultural anthropologist specialized in new media. He did empirical research in Uganda on internet usage. He is interested in the effects of new media practices on culture, focusing on the idea that different cultures react differently to - and make different uses of - new media.


On friday april 17 I met with John, who had set up a few cybercafé’s and telecentres both in Uganda and Tanzania. He has a university degree in mechanical engineering, but as soon as he graduated he started focusing on computers. At this moment he forgot all about mechanics, but in the meanwhile he has developed serious computer skills.

There are some social scientists who argue that people with a practical occupation or handicraft have a huge advantage in computer skills. Fatima Mernissi for example points to a new generation of Internet users in rural parts of Morocco who have backgrounds as snake magiciens and carpet weavers. According to her, the ability to be able to concentrate for a long time on a certain danger, problem or activity (snake or carpet) and being used to organize small things in such a way that symbols are created and messages are told (like in the decorations of the carpet), one is in essence doing the same thing as a computer specialist. Therefore, Mernissi argues, it is not an odd phenomenon that Internet use in Morocco is booming.

Miller and Slater speak of learning through practice:’A high proportion of the most skilled and knowledgeable users of the Internet and IT that we met were almost entirely self-taught..’(Miller & Slater 2000). In their ethnographic research in Trinidad, Miller and Slater explain that the Trinidadians learned to use information technologies in the same way as they learned to repair cars: not through formal education, but through practice.

This means that the lack of formal education in Uganda doesn’t necessarily have to withhold people from learning to deal with ICT’s. Besides that, there are a lot of cybercafé’s which offer a computer training. Since computers and other ICT’s have a certain status and especially young people are attracted to these phenomena without really knowing what it is, it inspires and motivates people to gain (access to) ICT’s and learn how to use them. The inspiration does not come solely from the fancy status of these technologies, but also from the idea that it’s the only way to the future. The way to be able to gain knowledge and interact on a more global level. The emergence of ICT’s in this respect creates a drive of inspiration among the youth, both students and non students, which not only serves a tool to obtain, but also to create knowledge.

I am not sure if eyeballing a snake or fixing the clutch of a Mitsubishi Pajero is the ultimate school, but I guess that might be exactly the point…

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