In praise of…iTunes in Africa

I was a very latecomer to iTunes, and I don’t doubt that there are other excellent non-Apple platforms that do just as good a job. What I want to talk about is not the technology but the life-enhancement. I’ve met a few Europe-based correspondents who come into Ivory Coast on media trips and who’ve said to me: ‘It must be great to live here all the time, but I’d miss the culture’. I’ve always been a bit taken aback by that. On reflection, I’ve never really lived in a major city outside Africa, so perhaps I’m missing out on something. But I’m not sure how cultured a life my friends in London, Paris and New York are living, and I’m not sure I quite get what’s uncultured about Abidjan. True, perhaps there’s a distinct lack of critical appraisal in Abidjan – most people are just keen to see any art on display without taking the time to work out if it’s good (whatever that means). But still culture is becoming far easier to access.

For Christmas, I got a mini ipod and it’s been one of the best presents I’ve received in recent years. I listen to it all the time – not for music, but for podcasts – programmes like In Our Time and Start the Week from the BBC. It allows me to follow the high-quality content on the BBC’s Radio 4 even here in Abidjan. It’s also a great way to use the time you frequently lose waiting for meetings to start, etc. On iTunes I also rent a film every couple of weeks to watch on my computer/ipod touch.

I’m not a gadget-freak (something you’d know if you saw my phone), but I think through the web and downloadable media, we’re reaching something of a new era, where much of the world is now no longer remote. You can video chat with friends on Skype and be almost as up-to-date in reading the latest books and listening to fresh albums as anyone. That’s incredibly liberating as it frees you to enjoy the great things about Ivory Coast that people don’t get in the West (and can’t catch up with on iTunes).

I rarely hear my tech friends in Abidjan talk about podcasts. But yet surely there must be a revolution coming – with plans for free wikipedia on mobile phones and podcast lectures from the greatest professors on the planet, the age of the auto-didact is closer than ever, even in places that were once seen as remote and isolated.

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