24 April 2013

This Doesn’t Engender Much Sympathy

The Guardian has one of those annoyingly Luddite human interest stories:

The three women, who trained at a church typing school in 1995, worked in local government offices but lost their jobs when computers were introduced and they did not know how to use them. So they set up their own small business in the bus station, charging between 200 and 300 Rwandan francs (20-30p) for each page. A page takes about two minutes to type and a good day will see them getting about 20 customers each.
Based in a bustling alleyway between the Nyabugogo bus station and the main road outside, they work rain or shine – with a large umbrella sheltering them from either extreme.
"We write all kinds of things," Mukankwiro said. "The most common things are project proposals, applications for jobs, CVs, judicial letters, that sort of thing. But sometimes we do write love letters for people. It's usually men who come and they are embarrassed at first but we tell them they need to stop it and just tell us what to write. Then we just get on with it."
She particularly enjoys typing works of fiction. "I also like it when people ask us to type up the plays they have written. They are always fun to read. I enjoy those a lot."
Her colleague, Marie Gorette Nimukuze, 35, said the work was strictly private and the typists would never reveal customers' secrets. "It's very confidential what we do, we never tell people what we've written. When people ask us to write letters there is a trust there and we don't break it."
But the march of technology will not leave them in peace. Just behind their office, a computer shop has opened, offering internet and printing services.
"Computers are really taking away our business," said Nimukuze. "More and more people are learning how to use computers so in the future they won't need us any more."

Naturally, the implicit spin is that technology is destroying something romantically retro, and seems to be nothing more than some sort of bait for curmudgeons.  You can basically feel sympathy for these women right up until you ask yourself the logical question:  why haven’t they purchased laptops?

Granted, they’d need more capital to run computers and printers than typewriters and ribbons, but given the market trends and the increasing ubiquity of technology in that corner of the world, holding on to a low-tech paradigm doesn’t actually make much sense from a business perspective.  Thus, it seems a little ludicrous to feel sorry for people who are facing a problem with an obvious and relatively affordable solution.