Friday, December 10, 2004

All I want for Christmas is…spam

If Christmas is a time for giving then why am I doing so much receiving? Since the beginning of December my email has been under a seasonal spam siege and I know I am not alone.

It is estimated that at least 60% of all email traffic is unsolicited. Most email users are plagued by adverts for cheap medication, bargain jewellery, unwanted links to pornography and products guaranteed to enlarge our most intimate body parts.

Bill Gates, the most spammed person in the world, gets four-million spam messages a day. He has a department dedicated to sifting his email for legitimate messages. Gates is also worth $46-billion and the richest man in the world. Clearly there must be a correlation between the amount of spam you get and your wealth.

In fact, Gates gets as many spam messages a day as there are Internet users in the whole of South Africa. This is currently estimated at 3 523 000 or 7,4% of the population according to World Wide Worx. South Africa is relatively advanced compared to the rest of Africa, though. South African Internet users make up 36% of total users in Africa which is close to 13 million.

In Africa as a whole only 1,4% of the population have access to the Internet. Compare this to the 35 million users in the UK, where 60% of the population utilise the web.

So spam is among the many things most Africans will not be getting this Christmas.

But have we really grasped the full weight of the technological problem facing Africa?

In 1965 Gordon Moore, cofounder of Intel, made his famous observation that the rate of technological development doubles every two years. This translates to an average performance improvement in the technology industry as a whole of 1% a week.

In real terms Moore's Law means that 'we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century…it will be more like 20 000 years of progress at today's rate,' says Ray Kurzweil CEO of

Access and use of information technologies in Africa is increasing but at the same time developed countries continue to outpace this growth. This means that as an African on this upward technological spiral you will always be playing catch-up. It is like being in an ever-accelerating car that continues to fall further behind because those ahead are accelerating even faster.

Africa has other problems. Infrastructural capacity, literacy and high-quality education and health care are prerequisites to technological advancement. There are only 14-million phone lines on the continent. And who needs a computer when you are starving?

But technology itself can be helpful in building effective infrastructure, governance and service provision. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) sees information and communication technology as central to reducing poverty, overcoming geographic isolation and promoting distance learning and health education.

Projects such as HealthNet use global communications in 150 countries to link up health professionals. Burn surgeons in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda now share information on reconstructive surgery techniques.

Microsoft South Africa has agreed to donate software to all 32 000 State schools in perpetuity (of course many will have to get computers first, with 19 000 schools still without sufficient facilities).

But despite these developments, as I sit bombarded by spam and taking my speedy broadband connection for granted, I am overwhelmed by the fear that Africa may never draw level with its developed counterparts.

I think we underestimate the gravity of this.

Do you know if you type the word 'poverty' into the Google Search Engine you get 20-million hits? If you type in the word 'spam' you get 45-million. Those of us who make up the information superhighway seem to be perturbed about the wrong thing.

The time has come to get the situation into perspective.

As for me and my little world, my personal commitment this Christmas is to only complain about things of real substance and get my own priorities straight.

I know spam is a real problem. It amounts to an amazing $1 934 per employee per year in terms of lost productivity according to Nucleus Research. But, frankly, I am only too happy to be suffering from such a 'First World' complaint as too much spam.

To celebrate I am going to buy my wife a genuine Rolex watch for £15, splash out on a bucket of Viagra for my granddad and wait for my Christmas millions to arrive from Idi Amin's second cousin who has promised they will be deposited as soon as I hand over my bank details. Remember, Christmas comes but once a year, but poverty, like spam, is for life.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 10 December 2004 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

No comments:

Post a Comment