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Computer cross talk: A picture now lies

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“A picture never lies” that was the axiom that primary school teachers spoiled our innocent minds with back in the 80s. That was the age of black and white Kodak photos.

Soon, colour graced photography. In those days, we would go on our knees to plead with our secondary school female white teachers to pose on a photo with a group of us. We would then send those photos to friends at St, Mary’s, Providence or Likuni Girls Secondary School. Don’t ask me what the intention was.

All I am trying to say is that we shared photos and Malawi Post Office was our kind of clumsy internet.

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And did we know that colossus Kodak which helped us share photos employed 145,300 people around the world? That number excluded thousands more that were indirectly employed through Kodak’s widespread supply and distribution network.

Our photo-sharing appetite made George Eastman, the founder of Kodak filthy rich.

Whilst Kodak required a whole population of 145,300 people in its chemical labs, Instagram only required just 15 people to create a simple app that 130 million customers would use to share some sixteen billion digital photos in just over a year of its existence. In just fifteen months, Instagram owners made a cool $1 billion dollars by selling the company to Facebook.

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A few months before Instagram was sold to Facebook, Kodak filed for bankruptcy after 132 years of its existence.

With only 4,200 employees including barely 1,000 engineers Facebook reached one billion users in 2012. Facebook has enables us create a profusion of four hundred billion photos each year with just a few taps of smartphone screens.

While employing a tiny fraction of the people that were required at Kodak, Facebook has a market value several times greater than Kodak ever had. Facebook has created seven billionaires so far each of with a net worth value greater than George Eastman had.

As I write this piece, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, is the sixth richest person in the world and is wealthy $44.6 billion. In ordinary language, this young man can bank-roll Malawi’s annual budget for the next 40 years.

What shall we say about these things? Digital things are like genetically modified seeds; a little yields a lot. The problem is that the bounty comes with a price; we have to forgo the taste we so much got used to. In our case, the many jobs that Kodak and the post office used to create.

And by the way, unlike chemical photos, digital pictures do lie.

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