Illustration by AlienCat/DepositPhotos
“It’s an untested technology, so it’s an untested business, and we can’t give a loan based on that.”
The words fell from the mouth of the loan officer, cascading into the failure I knew would come but for a very wrong reason. My father was trying to get a loan to stock inventory from the now defunct, “The Solar Company”, around 2002.
There were so many things I thought were wrong with the business plan, from lack of real marketing research right down to his cap with the spinning fan, but he would tell me frequently, “You eh know what de ass yuh talkin’ ‘bout” when I made comment.
He was right for reasons he didn’t understand.
The idea that we couldn’t get a loan back then for what was tried and tested around the world simply because it wasn’t done before in Trinidad and Tobago had never entered my mind. I had been prepared to take what we heard from the loan officer as talking points to use to get my father closer to what I thought the right track was, and admittedly, to show the old bull that the young bull did in fact know what he was talking about. I did not get that and, with a poker face on, my mind was slack-jawed with astonishment.
This has coloured how I view banks in Trinidad and Tobago. Ultra-conservative, lethargic bureaucracies that after all these years have not standardized their kludgey ‘Linx machines’ or gone the route of debit cards instead, as we see abroad. Whose Internet payment services convenience is demonstrated by nothing that can be substantiated for a small company.
As a technologist, the only answer was to go abroad to make my living in the hope that the banks would catch up. That the government would catch up, but as I saw recently even the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office doesn’t believe in being indexed by search engines, a mistake more common and forgivable in the 1990s than in 2018.
It is 2018, for those of you wondering. Globally, we have billionaires sending electric cars to Mars, our first autonomous car has had it’s first fatality, and cryptocurrencies have become ways to bypass lethargic governments and banking systems so much so that criminals are using them, and it’s a matter of time before some nations use that to say that everyone who uses them is a criminal.
The world is not one step ahead of Trinidad and Tobago, it’s a quantum leap ahead. Certainly, slow and sure is what won the turtle that race, but it was a fictional race.
We’re not in a fictional race. We’re consumers, our government dividing the economy into the oil sector and the not-oil sector because of the bias of oil revenue, the only thing that seems to grease the wheels of Parliament… yet somehow seems to evaporate like mineral oil since Independence. Corruption, bad choices and outright idiocy are the trifecta people talk about in the street, defending or attacking as the colour of their jersey dictates. “Dictates”, I wrote, because some cannot think for themselves and I shouldn’t have to explain that but in Trinidad and Tobago, it seems one has to.
I write this sort of thing because I don’t read it. There’s a part of me, a part of people that I surround myself, that are frustrated and have been for decades. Some have become passive-aggressive, taking safe swipes amongst friends quietly, staying away from the fence. Some have become so aggressive that they have become exactly what they used to complain about. And some are broken, muttering the litany, “This is Trinidad”.
Yet here I am, an entrepreneur of sorts with a strong technology background, looking at all of this, despite all of this, discarding business ideas like toilet paper. Agriculture – bad data for planning, roll the dice. Internet – no real local bank payment options in a nation that needs foreign exchange. Import/Export is a cliche compounded by an online sales tax.
When MEP Publishers’ Contact Magazine published an article, “Individuals and Communities Making Things New”, I had hope of reading something interesting, something that I could point to that someone else had written that broke new ground. It didn’t.
Granted, it repeated some of the same things that the rest of the globe has been saying for some time, and it feeds the liberal heart, but it completely misses intellectual property – the new oil- almost as much as the Copyright Organization of Trinidad and Tobago does for writers, software development and anything but music.
We could be creating content, creating technology instead of copying and reselling. We could be doing all of these things with the same carbon footprint, with little investment, by embracing our global competitiveness and making things of value, from games to movies, from books to technologies for analysis.
Various people have various ideas on this; Chambers of Commerce fumble with these ideas based on what people they pay tell them, and the people they pay seem to tell them what they want to hear.
The reality is that to get ahead, there needs to be risk. Silicon Valley’s greatest asset is not it’s revenue stream, it’s the people who have learned from the failures of the past within Silicon Valley.
Success comes from failure, evolution comes from adaptation, the global economy is an information economy and foreign exchange comes from abroad. Engineers, Scientists, Lawyers and Doctors can be trained, but visionaries and innovators cannot.
Trinidad and Tobago has an untapped, frustrated capacity to take part in the Information Economy, and yet when it comes to talking about it, to writing about it, we are lost for words.
Taran Rampersad has over three decades of experience working with technology, the majority of which was as a software engineer.
He is a published author on virtual worlds and was part of the team of writers at WorldChanging.com that won the Utne Award.
He is an outspoken advocate of simplifying processes and bending technology’s use to society’s needs.
His volunteer work related to technology and disasters has been mentioned by the media (BBC), and is one of the plank-owners of combining culture with ICT in the Caribbean (ICT) through CARDICIS and has volunteered time towards those ends.
As an amateur photographer, he has been published in educational books, magazines, websites and NASA’s ‘Sensing The Planet’.
These days, he’s focusing more on his writing and technology experiments. Feel free to contact him through Facebook Messenger.