The Information Age Arrives in Rural Kenya
Morpheus, “This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes…” as Neo reaches for the red pill, “Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.”
Cypher, “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years you know what I realized…” Puts piece of steak in his mouth and starts chewing, “… ignorance is bliss.”
In one of the most famous movies of the past twenty years, Neo is offered the chance to find truth and takes it by swallowing the red pill, whereas Cypher who has been living in truth wants to return to ignorance, to go back to the state of not knowing. It is difficult to fault Cypher (if it weren’t for the fact he betrayed his people) in wanting to return to contentment and comfort where life is handed to you and you don’t choose it. In this information age we live in, it is easy to get caught up in too many choices, in too many possibilities, in too many options that you end up choosing none of them or always wondering what if you had chosen the “other”. It is something that I’ve been struggling with recently as I need to figure out where to live back in the states for my domestic rotation. The fact that I can literally live anywhere has paralyzed me from making a final decision (coupled by my fear of commitment). In those times of uncertainty I wished how nice it would be to have no choice at all – to be handed a place without me having to struggle for an answer that may not be the “right” choice.
This idea of choice and opportunity was a topic of a fascinating dinner conversation for our team last week. Coupled with the topic of happiness, we went back and forth about the value of knowing and how perhaps information only makes one more miserable. In other words, a person who never rode in first class is better off not knowing anything about it since he or she will not yearn for that first class option or be upset about the discomforts of coach. My contention was that I would choose knowledge and information over ignorance and comfort because that is the only way to move forward and grow as a person and even as a society. To be kept in the dark about opportunities may indeed leave you in a “happy” state but you miss out on ways to be “happier” even at the risk of becoming “sadder”.
And really, this is the point of education isn’t it? As we are trying to help communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty, education is an important part of this realization because it opens doors for opportunities outside of subsistence farming. To go to school and become a teacher or a doctor or a pilot or a geologist or anything else; and that’s the point, to exercise options and contribute to society using natural abilities and learned skills. Because up to now people here have been disadvantaged in making those choices, limiting their abilities to climb out of extreme poverty. But armed with information, some will become successful entrepreneurs, wealthy businessmen, innovative scientists, etc. though realistically some will not realize their potential and information may stifle them or cause them to abandon their families.
The opening of doors to information is especially true of our Nuru staff here in Kenya. As I and other Program Managers have blogged recently, we are bringing internet to rural Kenya through mobile technology. The internet is information in the most gluttonous form. We can find just about anything we want to find including scenes from a movie as linked earlier or a development/ education blog about the Matrix as you are reading now. When the Education Coordinators first got hold of this tool, they read day and night about Kenya, Nuru, rocks, mountains, animals, etc. They constantly read the Daily Nation (Kenyan newspaper) and the BBC website. As we renewed their data plans this past week, one coordinator who had been reading about mountains on Wikipedia and who had stopped reading online to save his last MBs for work said to me, “now I can learn about rivers.” Indeed as an educator I want to know more and want others to always seek more information. I would choose the red pill over a juicy steak and read about rivers and mountains.
About Thomas Hong
Leadership Program Director — Thomas has worked in education and leadership development in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. He holds a B.A. in Economics and master’s degree in teaching from the University of Virginia and an MBA in international organizations from the University of Geneva.Read More Stories of Hope