Let me introduce you to my Granny:
She was born in Ireland in 1921. When she was a child, the passing of a car caused excitement and she had never seen an aeroplane. In summer she walked five miles to school in bare feet and stopped going altogether when she was in her early teens because she had to look after her six younger siblings. Dublin, 60 miles to the south, was a day away and people who had left for America to find work were rarely seen again.
Fast forward 80 years…
I am delighting in her reaction to my mobile phone (‘Bejesus’), my instantly emailed messages to friends around the world (Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’) and anything to do with the internet (‘I just don’t understand how it can work’).
My Granny died five years later and trying to understand the concept of wireless broadband and Skype would have made her brain explode anyway. But what makes me remember this conversation in particular is her question afterwards: “Why, despite all this, are there are still millions of poor people in the world (‘cos it’s disgusting’)?”
Fast forward ten more years…
I’m writing this while travelling on a train at more than 100 miles an hour. At this speed my home town of Coventry is an hour away from London and people travel more than 200 miles every day for eight hours’ work.
That alone is staggering, but a pint of strong cider (it is 10pm) combined with the fact I can simultaneously travel, blog and surf the internet fills me with awe.
My Granny was right, of course. It is disgusting that I can do all this while people elsewhere can’t feed their children. Yet her life gives me hope. Hope, because there are parallels to draw between some developing countries now and the Ireland of the 1920s. She was born into a civil war and poverty, but she gave her children a full education and got (what was then) a high-tech factory job. Her children, nieces and nephews became teachers, professors, doctors and nurses.
This is due to the technological progress made in her lifetime. The development of infrastructure and technology has made farming, travel and communications more efficient in Ireland and enabled the Irish to solve their political and economic problems and (banking aside) focus on what they do best.
Similar economic development has been repeated elsewhere – in Portugal, Turkey and China. And as I sit here I think if I can help enable us to achieve technology justice in every region Practical Action operates in, my Granny’s wide-eyed wonderment would finally be complete.