In South Africa, nearly 10 million people use the internet - thanks to internet-enabled smartphones. We work and make money online. Our vocabulary has expanded as we welcome terms such as “going viral”, “googling”, “troll” and “social media”. The rules of spelling and grammar are being rewritten by SMS-speak and Twitter character limits (goodbye, apostrophe! It’s been great knowing you). We lay ourselves bare to far greater numbers of people via our personal disclosures on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and our blogs. Even the way we relate to each other is changing. While some are more likely to become aggressive and flame people behind the relative anonymity of social media, others are able to help total strangers by sharing information more readily.
Welcome to the Age of the Internet...
David versus the digital Goliath
It’s a brave new world out there. Here are some of its heroes, ground breakers, celebrities and oddities...
For the most part, people use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to connect with friends, share pictures of their cat, and waste corporate time. But the immediacy of the medium makes it a powerful tool for meting out justice.
Consider the case of Will.I.Am, the performer who fronts international megaband The Black Eyed Peas, and writes most of their songs. Except sometimes he doesn’t write as much as borrow heavily.
In April this year, Will released a single called Let’s Go. It is every bit as dancey as you might expect, but some listeners found it oddly familiar. In fact, within minutes of the YouTube release, someone figured out that Will had simply recorded vocals on top of Rebound, a track by electro duo Arty & Mat Zo, an accusation Will hotly denied.
In record time, the subject of Will’s plagiarism became a trending topic, and a video comparing the two songs (they are identical) spread through Facebook like wildfire. A vast amount of outrage was generated, whereupon Will recalled that he might have used Rebound, by accident, and was now working with the relevant publishers to rectify the situation, which is code for paying them an obscene amount of money not to sue him!
Get a Kick Start
Arguably the greatest impact the Internet has had is in removing the barriers between people, and nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than on Kickstarter.com, the website that pioneered crowd funding.
In the past, if you had a good idea and you wanted to build it, you had to approach banks or wealthy investors. But Kickstarter turns that paradigm on its head by allowing people to appeal directly to the public for funding via micro-donations. This means Kickstarter projects tend to get funded based more on how ridiculously cool they are than how financially successful they might be.
Things that owe their existence to Kickstarter include the GoPano Micro, a clip-on device for your phone that allows you to shoot video 360 degrees around you simultaneously. A rentable satellite! The ArduSat is a tiny 10 centimetre satellite orbiting the Earth that is leased out to scientists, students, and hobbyists to run experiments in space without having to undergo months of planning and fundraising. Another Kickstarter success story is RevoLights – really cool bike lights that cast 360 degrees of LED illumination. Google it to find out more!
But Kickstarter isn’t just for inventors. Artist Daniel Mustard was homeless when an amateur video of one of his busking performances went viral on YouTube. He leveraged his Internet celebrity to launch a Kickstarter campaign that successfully funded the recording and production of the album that got him off the streets.
The latest generation literally starts their lives online –some even make large amounts of money doing it.
When uber-mom blogger Tertia Albertyn (tertia.org) gave birth to her son, Max, in 2008, he made history by being the first South African whose birth was live-tweeted on Twitter. The personal story told by this Twitter Queen and Facebook Junkie documented her journey and struggle through IVF treatments, giving many women support and hope. Today Tertia is the co-founder of South Africa's largest Egg Donation Programme.
Tavi Gevinson started a fashion blog, Style Rookie, in 2008, when she was just eleven. Before she knew it, she had tens of thousands of hits per day. She was invited to New York and Paris Fashion Weeks and interviewed by New York Times magazine. Now internationally famous, she’s launched her own teen girl portal, Rookie, written by teenage girls but with A-list Hollywood celebrity contributors. Tavi’s diverse interests not limited to fashion, has been credited as providing girls with intelligent, quirky alternatives to other media influences, which limit their aspirations to pink bedrooms and booty-shaking backup vocals in rap videos. Not bad for a girl who posted a couple of fashion pics on a blog, huh?
If you want to keep your eye on other young bloggers, check out www.youngestblogger.com, updated daily.
Everybody likes to diss on old folks using the internet, rolling their eyes when Grandma tries to understand “The Google” or puts your baby pictures on “my Facebrick”. But as the Baby Boomer generation is moving into senior citizen hood, older folks are getting to grips with the magical interweb too.
Facebook’s oldest registered users, Maria Colunia Seguar-Metzgar and Edythe Kirchmaier, were born in 1907 and 1908 respectively. Eric Shackle is, at 94, the world’s most prolific nonagenarian blogger and journalist. Check out his blog at nimblenoms.blogspot.com or his e-book, Life Begins At 80...On the Internet. And 87-year-old Millie Garfield (mymomsblog.blogspot.com) has achieved YouTube fame with her hilarious series of “I can’t open it” rants, where she complains about manufacturers who make products she can’t, well, open.
Home Grown Heroes
South Africans punch above their weight when it comes to internet inventiveness.
The Silicon Valley Business Journal just announced that four of the five past winners of the 2008-2012 Executive of the Year Awards are originally from South Africa: Space crusader Elon Musk, ex-Microsoft star Paul Maritz, and clean energy innovators and brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive. We don’t need to mention Mark Shuttleworth, who made his fortune in digital certificates and internet security in the 90s before turning to space travel and philanthropy... as you do.
And it was Shuttleworth Foundation fellow Arthur Attwell whose company, paperight.com, allows village copy shops to print copies of books ordinary people in developing countries would otherwise not be able to access. More than 150 copy shops are already registered with Paperight. The company has just won the Digital Minds Innovation Award at the London Book Fair, and the Most Entrepreneurial Startupin the 2013 O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Startup Showcase, New York.
Whether you’re young or old, in it to make money, achieve justice, post pictures of your cat, or just for a good old laugh, there’s a home for you in cyberspace. Come on in, the keyboards warm...