The twilight of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s saw the world change drastically; from the creation of transistors and Integrated Circuits (ICs) to the invention of laser. Technology came to dominate and the way information was shared changed forever. Not only did the amount of academics and scholars rise in countries like the Unites States but also the amount of research they produced yielded desirable and satisfactory results. The age of information was born and as the saying goes, things were never the same again.
In 1975 two friends, Bill Gates and Paul Allen decided to drop out from university to start their own company. Today the company they founded, Microsoft has a whopping 97000 employees and in 2012 generated revenue of $73.72 billion. Almost a full year later, Apple was found by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. Today Apple is counted among the most influential and powerful technology companies in the world, with an immense revenue of $156.508 billion with 72 800 employees. Those who were there or are familiar with the history of technology will remember the fierce rivalry between these two giants throughout the 80s and 90s; with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs finally deciding to make peace in the late 90s.
Of course there were other companies either than Apple and Microsoft that were shaking the world of technology during the 80s and 90s but it was not until 1998 when two PhD students from Stanford University decided to shift gears in the Digital Era – revolutionising yet again how information would be disseminated – that the masses began to take technology seriously as a powerful tool that would come to dominate our daily lives. Larry Page and Sergey Brin created the company Google; a revelation that apparently Bill Gates hinted as his biggest fear. Google today has become such a household name that the search giant’s name is synonymous with finding information on the Internet. Google became the new kid on the block; an underdog a name the young founders preferred. And with time the search engine became a force to be reckoned with; eclipsing seasoned search giants like Yahoo, Alta Vista and Lycos on its way to the top.
Dropping out of university to build a tech company must have been a thing at Harvard. Almost 30 years after Bill Gates had decided to leave arguably the best university in the world to start Microsoft, another kid from New York followed in his footsteps to start his company. This kid’s name is Mark Zuckerberg. It took only 6 years after Google had decided to bring almost all of the world’s information to the tip of your fingers, before the Digital Era evolved again. This time the social network Facebook was born. It is safe to say that not only did the social network become an influential social tool or an impressive medium to distribute information; it gave an astonishing number of spineless men courage to propose women. On behalf of those men who had for many years lacked the confidence to approach the women they fancied, I would like to convey a vote of thanks to Facebook’s co-founders. Men had lost their tongues but now they can speak.
In the fall of 2012 Facebook’s revenue was estimated at $5.1 billion. With a number of users standing at over 1 billion in the last year, Mark Zuckerberg could easily choose between China and India to rule as president. Of course in the real world that would be a mountain to climb but who can say it is impossible?
Now what does this mean to the youth of South Africa and the unemployment rate that does not look ready to decline? I am conscious of the fact that the names that I mention above are American and you are probably surprised but do not be. Any work of brilliance deserves to be commended, even if it is from unusual parties. And I am also aware of my bias towards technology; but this does not mean that business opportunities are exclusive to technology driven companies.
For us to prosper we need to first address the lack of imagination among the South African youth, particularly those who had the opportunity of attending higher learning institutes. Our self-entitlement attitude is embarrassing; unfortunately because of that intellectual lethargy has found a comfortable home in South Africa. We are sitting as the youth, the future of this country, waiting along the road singing ‘The government of Mandela promised to provide, now they should provide.’ As much as we would like to blame government for not delivering services, we cannot blame them for our lack of vision and imagination. We need to rid ourselves of the slave mentality and start dreaming of being employers too.
Graduates, particularly African graduates it is time to snap out of ‘If I can earn R15 000 a month, drive a Golf GTI and rent a flat in some posh suburb’ modern slave mentality. The slave attitude needs to make way for an independent, creative mind seeking to make your society a better place. ‘Mpho’s company employs 20000 workers. The company built five schools and 2 clinics in Dithakong’; this is the type of news I would like to read; the kind of documentaries I know would be a pleasure to watch. There is an inspiring saying in Setswana that goes like this: ‘Dilo tse dintle di a kopiwa‘ which means – with the Queen’s permission of course – you are allowed to copy beautiful and innovative creations; please understand me, I am not legalising theft of intellectual property. What I am saying is we can follow the example of those creative Americans. It does not necessarily have to be a tech company and not everyone is going to found a company; but one will go to bed with peace every night with the knowledge that we have among us a capable and innovative, active youth.
Tambo, Sisulu and Lembede have long gone; they did their job, and they did it with distinction and finesse. If you feel that anything on this land belongs to you, it does not help sitting down and moaning about it. Get out there and get it. South Africa is in need of new heroes, Africa is in need of new heroes. Are you that hero? I will let your legacy answer that question. Posterity will be the judge of that. Kgotsong!