Why We Need Movies About Tech In Nigeria – Lessons From Halt And Catch Fire

On the Whatsapp group of a postgraduate class in a first generation Nigerian University, there was a Wednesday morning conversation about the submission date for a policy paper.

The admin, the class leader, posts on the group that “Prof Dike’s assignment will be submitted today”. A student, Bunmi, posts a question about the submission date for another assignment by Dr Yomi, another facilitator, and the admin replies by posting “Next Wednesday”. The admin posts his reply without highlighting/quoting Bunmi’s post to show that he is answering her question in particular; there is no need to since everyone is following the conversation.

On Wale’s Whatsapp, there is a slight difference in the sequence of the chats: “Next Wednesday” comes right after the first message the group admin posted. So Wale exhales in relief; “today” has changed to “next wednesday” he thinks, and will now settle down to prepare his paper over the weekend to submit next Wednesday. (PG students and their stressful work-school life, you know)

But not everyone’s sequence of chats was like Wale’s; actually, no other person’s. So they all come with their assignments to class, this Wednesday.

This is not a made-up anecdote; the difference between an ‘A’ and a ‘C’ is on the line here. So let us hope Prof Dike is lenient and will collect Wale’s paper next Wednesday. But in weightier situations where “bad network” throws a spanner in important work, the effects could be so damaging that remediation becomes nigh on the impossible. That was my lesson from the screening of ‘Halt and Catch Fire’, a fictional period drama show that tells the story of the development of the internet and communications technology age in the United States around the 1980s.

Halt and Catch Fire is probably an unwieldy name for a tech movie. Watching it, you won’t jump off your seat with laughter and there are no Dora Milajes throwing swords and saving the world. But the incredible reviews and ratings on IMDb (8.3/10), Vulture (5/5) and Rotten Tomatoes (91%) are glowing certifications for the highly important conversation around intellectual property protection, data privacy and community advocacy it is sure to stir in viewers. With the growing influence of and dependence on technology in the Nigerian entrepreneurial and creative space, an investment in the four seasons of the series is arguably of same worth as your precious data plan.

Internet and data-based upstarts are the buzz of the moment but there are many challenges that do not allow many get their heads up, be steady and keep the pace. There is a squeeze in productivity and creativity following from deficiencies of infrastructure, inadequacies of existing laws and scarce sources of funding. Then, there are cases of flat out exploitation and poaching of ideas, as well as copying and duplication without giving credits. Think some bloggers and influencers taking off content from one platform and raking in alerts by posting on another.

There is hope, though, and the intersection of technology and community was the central theme of the screening of Halt and Fire. As Angelina Burnett, a writer and producer of the series, explained, the value of the show was in the inspiration to make the case for taking advantage of progress in information technology to drive advocacy. From mobilizing participation in elections, to driving public awareness in policymaking, technology has an indispensable role to play. Nigeria has had its tech-driven moments such as the organisation of the Occupy Naija protests of 2012 which began on twitter, and current campaigns such as the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. More are in the works on Instagram and Twitter, as well as in innovation hubs from Lagos to Abuja.

There are many fascinating plots to picture about the tech environment in Nigeria, in terms of challenges, present outcomes and potentials. Producers and scriptwriters may want to start exploring these; we’ve had a good run of wedding movies, haven’t we?

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Reporting by Alexander O. Onukwue | Fictional names were used in the introductory story to protect identities

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