Where is Tech in African Literature?November 30, 2017
It is curious that in 2017, there are few African novels that represent technology the way we use it in our daily lives. Beyond cursory mentions of popular social networks and sending emails, there is almost no recognition of what technology, specifically the internet, does and how we use it.
This is not about science fiction or the exploration of new genres of African literature or robots taking over the world, nor is it about how technology has influenced or is influencing literature. I am talking of simply showing the ways in which we use mobile phones and the internet.
In a time when the mobile phone is almost ubiquitous and more than a quarter of the population of the continent has access to the internet, it is interesting that these are not represented in contemporary African literature.
The first book I remember reading that featured technology in this sense was Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries which has excerpts from chats and IMs between the main character Mia Thermopolis and her best friend Lilly Moscovitz as part of the novel. Around then, there were other books, usually Young Adult, that showed excerpts of IMs between characters to supplement the story.
In a time when the mobile phone is almost ubiquitous and more than a quarter of the population of the continent has access to the internet, it is interesting that these are not represented in contemporary African literature. There are only three books I can remember that explore technology as part of the characters and their lives. In Americanah, Adichie includes in the story, excerpts from Ifemelu’s blog, which give the readers more insight into Ifemelu’s thoughts and politics. In 60 Percent of a True Story, Tafa inserts tweets and email excerpts in his sort of memoir about events in his life. These excerpts are part of the stories and show the varying ways in which people react to events, how social media can be a force for good, and the ways Nigerian youth use the internet for schemes such as Yahoo Yahoo.
In Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, there is a whole section dedicated to pages and pages of tweets to show how Furo’s sister was dealing with her brother’s disappearance. It might have also been a show of how people pursue fame on the internet using any subject matter, even something as painful and personal as the loss of one’s brother. Although it eventually became a drag to slug through pages of tweets, it was an interesting and unexpected representation of the real life ways people use technology.
In writing this article, I asked friends what African books they had read that included representations of technology and nobody could name any book. It is peculiar that people who read novels and stories on their mobile phones can not reference African literature that features the existence of said devices.