In Cape Breton these days, you can have a light supper of Italian capocollo, Spanish olives and an radicchio salad washed down with a nice glass of Barolo, before being driven to the theatre to catch a live simulcast of Anna Netrebko performing in the Met’s version of Don Pasquale. In other words, you can have many of the same experiences that someone in the big city like Toronto can have. This is astounding to me in some ways, because when I was younger and living in Cape Breton, that was not the case. What people in big cities enjoyed was something either you could not experience locally or something you got to experience much latter. Now, the people at Loblaws or the Metropolitan Opera didn’t get together and say: those poor Cape Bretoners…we should be nice and give this stuff to them. No, what happened is that first they found ways to be able to distribute these things cost effectively and profitably to areas like Cape Breton via innovations in their supply chain. Once they could do that, they understood that there was a market for these goods and services there just like there was in Toronto or Vancouver or other parts of Canada. And just like in other parts of Canada, not everyone in Cape Breton cared or wanted these things. But many Capers did, and that motivated these companies to distribute these goods and services to Sydney and Glace Bay and other parts of the Island.
Likewise with Africa and IT. As I pointed out here (Some thoughts on datafication and the poor way writers think about IT and Africa | Smart People I Know), it’s not a question of being nice. It’s a question of being innovative enough to reach and serve new markets that you were not able to reach and serve before. The demand is there. It’s a matter of the supply.
The comparison only goes so far, but often times when I read about people in India or Africa and other parts of the world, I think of my own experiences in Cape Breton. I think of the assumptions and limitations implied concerning Cape Bretoners, and then I try to see things in a more open way, just like I would hope people outside of Cape Breton see the people who live there.
(Photo of Anna Netrebko from the 2010 performance of Donzetti’s Don Pasquale.)