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Mar08

#19 Brendon Petersen – Everything Tech, a Bit of Bitcoin, and Just Doing It

PODCAST: Episode 19

Brendon Petersen – Everything Tech, a Bit of Bitcoin, and Just Doing It

Episode 19 with tech mogul, Brendon Petersen. A conversation that could have continued for hours! After Philip von Ziegler, the host of our show appeared on Brendon’s podcast, we just had to continue the conversation with Brendon on the Future Minds podcast.

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About Our Guest: Brendon Petersen

Brendon is the founder and editor of Reframed, one of South Africa’s top independent tech review, research, and news platforms. Having worked in the media and technology sectors for most of his life, Brendon remains passionate about developing and maintaining the connection between brand and customer.

Brendon Petersen

By playing a vital role as an independent content provider in such a dynamic and competitive industry, Brendon spends most of his time exploring and critiquing the bleeding edges of innovation.

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Topics Discussed

  1. Tech trends for the coming decade.
  2. The role technology plays in education.
  3. The pace at which technology evolves.

Full Episode Transcription

Guest Introduction

Philip von Ziegler: In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Brendon Petersen. Brendon is the founder and editor of Reframed, South Africa’s top, independent tech review, research, and news platform. Having worked in the media and technology sectors for most of his life, Brendon remains passionate about developing and maintaining the connection between brand and customer. By playing a vital role as an independent content provider in such a dynamic and competitive industry, Brendon spends most of his time exploring and critiquing the bleeding edges of innovation.

In this episode, we discuss tech trends for the coming decade, the role technology plays in education, how quickly technology evolves, and a range of other topics. I really enjoyed this conversation with Brendon and I’m sure you will, too. For anyone looking to learn more about what’s happening in the world of tech, this episode is for you. Brendon, welcome.

Brendon Petersen: Thanks for having me.

PvZ: Nice to have you here.

BP: It’s a weird role reversal.

PvZ: Yea, it is, so you’re normally the one behind the mic interviewing the guests, so now it’s my turn. To start off, for those who don’t know who you are, maybe just give us a little bit about you and what it is that you do.

BP: This is like the deer in the headlights moment. Immediately my mind goes to, do I tell you I like long walks on the beach, which you can’t do at the moment?

PvZ: Start wherever you want.

BP: But in all seriousness, I own a website, Reframed.co, technology reviews and opinions and that sort of stuff. Also, a podcast which you’ve been on, the Reframe podcast, which is on more platforms than I know of these days. A YouTube channel. I consult for tech companies, media houses, and back in the day I used to work for one of the big four global tech companies doing global product launches and releases, so little things.

PvZ: Little things, nice, so what’s it like getting the newest, latest, greatest tech all the time before the rest of us? I mean, that’s a pretty cool experience.

BP: [laugh] Do you know how many people ask me about that? There’s a guy who’s just joined the industry, he’s very new to the whole thing. And I was sitting and I was like, hey, I can connect with some people. And he got a device that I’m actually still waiting for, which was supposed to be delivered this morning, still hasn’t arrived. And he messages me, he sends me a message via Telegram. And he’s like, oh, my word, this is so amazing!

And I was like, oh, hmm, cool. And then I realised afterwards I’ve become so used to it, which sounds like such a bad thing to say, but to me, it’s just my normal. But when I stop and take a step back and hear other people talking about, ag, I wasn’t able to get this, so this was an issue. And I’m just like, right, right, okay, this is weird to me.

Because I’m so used to, oh, you need something, you drop an email, you drop a WhatsApp, you drop a Telegram, and then you get the stuff you need when you need it. So it’s fun, but I think it’s something that you adapt to very quickly and it becomes your new normal faster than I think you think it’s going to happen.

PvZ: Yeah, that’s an interesting point, because I think we all get used to things too quickly. It’s like this coronavirus pandemic came about, massive lockdown, shock in the beginning. It’s all the talk and now it’s like normal.

BP: Yeah, I was chatting to the Uber driver on the way over and we were saying it’s been almost a year of lockdown. And in the beginning when everyone was buying the shops out and buying up all the toilet paper, which I still don’t understand. And now it’s like, oh, we’re going to go to Level 3? Okay. Oh, we might go back to Level 1. Okay. It’s just like different day, same thing, kind of vibe.

The Rapid Rate of Tech

PvZ: But I found that the same thing applies to technology in a way. Technology improves at such a rapid rate and we take it for granted.

BP: Okay, now you’re speaking my language. [laugh] It does, but I think part of the problem that you have, and this is part of what Reframe was actually all about. Is technology is broken up into many different categories, not just in terms of the different types like AI or 5G or, I don’t know, quantum computing, or edge computing that everyone’s talking about now?

It’s also consumer versus B2B, so business to business. And consumers are things like your laptops, your phones, your cameras, that sort of stuff. The stuff we all know and see and engage with every day. But the B2B stuff is the stuff that a lot of people say is not as exciting because it’s the stuff that powers all the stuff that we use, but what we’re seeing now is an overlap of those two worlds.

Like you guys, you use AI and had you said to someone three years, four years ago, AI this, people would have been like, what? Isn’t that just this thing in the movies, isn’t it going to take over the world? Like Elon Musk keeps telling people.

And now it’s this thing that we have in our cameras, on our phones, on a platform like Smartick. We’re using cloud computing for everything. Edge computing is becoming a thing. Artificial intelligence, the assistants, are a thing. And it’s that overlap that we now need to talk about because what you’re seeing in consumer tech as sort of incremental upgrades, dare we mention certain smartphone brands? It’s actually almost all of these days.

PvZ: There’s one that’s very incremental in its development approach! [laugh]

BP: Yes, but if you look at what’s just happened like a week ago with Samsung. A lot of people are saying that the new S series devices are incremental upgrades and some of them actually steps back.

The problem there is you’re just seeing an end product, you’re not seeing all the technology and research that’s gone into the behind-the-scenes to get you these things. And I think as a society, we’ve become so used to having 16 gigs or 12 gigs or 8 gigs of RAM in our pockets. But if you sit back and think about it, you use less than that to send rockets to the moon. So we’ve all adapted to even look at under screen fingerprint sensors or IR scanners on the iPhone. Those are normal things to us.

But four years ago that was the thing where you were like, they want to do what? That’s never going to work, it’s not a thing. It’s never going to catch on. Like when the first smartphone cameras came out, I remember I was sitting in a car one day and listened to the radio because that doesn’t make me sound old. [laugh]

And people really were talking about, oh, there’s this new Sony Ericsson, and you can get this camera attachment and you pop it in. And I was like, why would you want a camera on your … ? It just makes no sense, it’s never going to catch on. Well, clearly, I was wrong!

And that’s the thing, we adapt so quickly. In the beginning, it’s foreign, it’s weird, but as soon as we get used to it, that’s it, we stay. And then we just see these upgrades come out and we think, ah, it’s not that different, oh, it’s not that different.

Well, there’s only so much you can do before there needs to be a massive shift. And you cannot sell a massive shift to a consumer market because it’s something they won’t understand. So you’ve got to do it incrementally so that people can gradually get used to things.

PvZ: Yeah, I once watched this interesting YouTube presentation. I believe, I forgot his name, but I believe at some point his role was Chief Evangelist of the Apple brand. It may be the right guy that I’m talking about, I’m not sure.

Anyways, the takeaway for me was that in order to create a good product, you need to strike the perfect balance between novel and familiar. And if something is too novel and new, it doesn’t attract the right attention, it’s too experimental, it’s too new. If it’s too familiar to people, it’s also not exciting enough. But that’s where the golden thread lies in developing new tech, is that familiarity/novel midway.

BP: I think the perfect example of that is last year we saw the first wave of foldable phones coming and these are not like clamshell phones. These are phones where the display glass actually folds closed. And a lot of people until today are still saying, oh, but we don’t need them, there’s no point. And when it came out, people were saying, what’s so special about this? Why am I paying such a fortune for something that looks like something my Motorola Razr could do back in the day?

I was, like, I get you, I understand what you’re saying, I understand why this doesn’t make sense. But at the same time, if they had brought out a foldable phone that didn’t look like something that you’ve already used, would you have been interested in it? Absolutely not, it would have been dead in the water.

And it’s not about the fact that the phone folds. It’s about the fact that glass can bend. That is mind-boggling when you think about it. Glass does not bend and companies have found a way to do that. This now means that going forward in terms of displays and the way we engage with technology, you’ve got an endless array of form factors that no one would ever have thought of before.

PvZ: Yea, and pretty soon that’s going to become normal, and then you can introduce that in a wider array of tech products.

BP: Yea, I mean, this year we’re seeing the rollable phones, so those look like scrolls. LG and OPPO are both doing it. In fact, I spoke to someone at OPPO the other day and they’re bringing in a few units of that rollable phone into the country later this year. And that’s a big deal because with that happening, Samsung just last week said they’ve got a whole range of new foldables coming.

So all of a sudden you’ve got these new form factors which are opening up the possibilities of do you need to have a phone that’s as big? Because phones are arguably too big these days. But also, could you have one device now that could be a phone when you need it to be; a tablet, when you need it to be, and a laptop when you need it to be? Like imagine that in an educational situation.

PvZ: Yea, that would be powerful.

BP: You see, that would never have been possible if they hadn’t started doing foldable phones. And if those foldable phones hadn’t taken off, that also wouldn’t have been possible. And the only way for foldable phones to take off is because let’s do it in a form factor that you’ve already seen and you are familiar with. Sell it to you easier, it’s more palatable that way.

Cryptocurrency

PvZ: Yea. Which area of technology interests you the most at the moment?

BP: [laugh] Many, many. I’ve got a very big obsession with cryptocurrency. Well, actually, no, let me take that back, not cryptocurrency, with blockchain, actually. Cryptocurrency is just one of the things that runs off of the blockchain, but I think blockchain technology is fascinating.

A couple of years ago I was actually up in Johannesburg with Microsoft when they did was it their Blockchain Africa Conference? I can’t remember.

And Stefan Thomas was there. He used to be at Ripple, he’s now at a different company, also doing amazing things. And Stefan Thomas was there and we ended up having what was supposed to be an interview, but it turned out to be a long conversation. We nearly missed his flight because neither one of us wanted to stop talking, like I’m doing now. And we were just talking about the fact that no one truly understands what blockchain is because when you hear blockchain, you think Bitcoin.

But no-one fully understood what Bitcoin is, and that may not have been the best ambassador for what blockchain technology could do. It was just the only thing that popped up. And the potential for blockchain is exponential purely because it looks to change a lot of the ways we’ve done things. But also because no one has fully unpacked the potential, which is scary and exciting. So that’s one area I’m fascinated with. But the other side of things, AI, because I know Elon Musk is like, hmm, don’t do the AI, AI is coming for you. And I was like, “guys…”

There was a series on Showmax that I watched, which was a little bit over the top where they’re rogue AI is going to take over the world. Like I mean, hmm!

PvZ: This coming from the same guy that wants to put chips in the brain through the Neuralink project.

BP: Thank you, thank you, that’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s like you and I need to have a conversation, Elon. But it’s that, but it’s also how are we using cloud technology? Because it seems like this very buzzword kind of thing, cloud, and you hear all the time, but no one actually knows how it’s being used other than, oh, you can store your stuff in the cloud. Okay, but what else can I do? So you look at things like Stadia.

PvZ: Yea, that’s interesting.

BP: Okay, maybe not Stadia because that didn’t take off so well for Google, but that concept and look at PS5. Look at Xbox where you can get the diskless versions because your processing is happening in the cloud. There’s a lot of potential there.

And then 5G, where everyone’s like, oh, I can download my Netflix faster. No. I mean you can, but that’s not what 5G’s about. 5G is about how we connect everything. So you could be a farmer living out in the middle of nowhere, have sensors in the ground, and because of 5G capabilities, you can get real-world updates. Oh, there’s something wrong with this specific batch of crops.

Or you could be living somewhere and there’s no fiber in your area or no proper Internet. But if there’s a 5G tower, you’re getting the same fiber speeds. The potential for that in self-driving cars, and again, for AI with how you guys base your lessons, and how it adapts and learns.

PvZ: Sure, and then one of the big powers is the zero-latency effect.

BP: Yea, I mean, you need that the more you connect it to the lower latency you need because you need these instantaneous responses, especially self-driving cars. You can’t have a car driving and then take 13 seconds to make a decision, does it go, or does it not go? You need less than milliseconds.

PvZ: Yea, especially if it has to react to accidents if it has to react to objects in this way. No, that’s super interesting. From your standpoint, which area of technology is innovating at the fastest rate?

I mean, I’ve always seen mobile phones as being one of those hyper competitive spaces where you see massive development. But that’s competition driving innovation, similar to the automobile industry.

BP: It’s a little bit more complicated than that. It is competition driving innovation in smartphones. But I think something that a lot of people don’t know is that these big tech companies are sitting planning years in advance with their strategies. So what you’re seeing now is something that was probably planned 5 to maybe 10 years ago.

The company I worked at before, I won’t say who, we used to do our road maps 21 years in advance, which to me boggles the mind! It’s like how do you sit and predict what’s happening 21 years in the future? But you’re not doing that, you’re incrementing, incrementic, ag, I can say this word, I can use my words. Incrementally, there we go, move towards what that goal is.

So even things like, again, going back to the foldable phones, that glass didn’t just get developed in two years. That’s taken ages and ages and ages and ages of research and dollars to eventually get to the stage where this is possible, but this is what the problem is. Oh, we fixed X problem, now we go forward.

I think smartphones are probably the most competitive, but not just because there’re so many different brands. I think it’s the idea of what a phone is and how it fits into your life has changed entirely. I think this foldable display revolution we’re seeing is going to have a bigger impact than people think. Because if you look at what’s happening with cars at the moment, we’re looking at moving toward self-driving cars. There’s a lot of talk about people not even owning cars anymore and moving on to like a subscription model or something like that, and we’ve seen examples of this in Sci-Fi series. Look at Westworld season 3, season 4, whichever one is the latest one.

That concept is very close to becoming a reality. Look at Amazon and the announcement of, oh, we’ve got the self-driving delivery stuff and all this. What’s happening there is shifting the idea of what a car is. What’s happening with phones and foldable is shifting what a phone is meant to be, because it’s now going to move away from just being the messaging thing that we’re using it for, and moving towards being the nerve center of everything else.

And because of the foldable glass and those form factors, it can change shape and it could become smaller. It could be something that ends up being something that sits on your wrist like a smartwatch but not a smartwatch, and it could be something else entirely. So I think that’s probably the most exciting because it’s having the most impact on the most amount of people.

Virtual Reality

PvZ: Yea, how far are we with VR?

BP: I’m just going to leave, I’m done, now! [laugh] VR, no.

PvZ: It was obviously was a very hot topic a couple of years ago, it seemed to fade away. Oculus has come – and I don’t want to say gone – but they’ve released a pretty cool VR headset recently. But it’s still not nearly where we would have thought we would have been with things like Google Glass and so forth.

BP: So I shake my head, and that was my reaction because I’ve spoken to the country manager of Lenovo Africa and Thibault knows to never mention VR in front of me because as soon as someone says it, he just looks at me and he’s like, “What? What is wrong now?” It doesn’t impress me because, like you say, it’s not done any of the things we thought it was going to do. And the problem is there’s not been any watershed product that says: this is why you need to get VR.

Gaming is probably the best thing that you could argue for in the case of VR, but then you look at things like mixed reality and augmented reality. And I think that augmented reality is having a far bigger impact, even though we don’t see it on a consumer level. I’ve seen lots of examples of mining technology, or repairs and that sort of thing, where using augmented headsets – and it’ll show you: oh, this is the piece that needs to go there. Oh, this is a composition of what that is. So this is probably what’s behind that rock kind of thing. I think that’s more exciting.

VR, one of the tech companies that I spoke to last year, laptop manufacturers, was supposed to, I’m not sure if they’ve actually unveiled it yet, was supposed to be unveiling a VR headset-style thing, but far more portable – that you could take with you, and it works with your laptops. So that when you are sitting on a plane, which has been a while, and you’re sitting on a long-distance flight and you need to do some work, you can actually put on this headset and it almost simulates an actual work environment.

PvZ: Interesting.

BP: And I was like I don’t quite get it, but I find it interesting. I think businesses are looking, especially now with people working from home, at ways where that kind of technology might give you that office-like experience without being in an office. But other than that, no one knows what to do with it. It’s weird.

PvZ: Yea, interesting, that was always one of the big issues that I saw, and that was the lack of ubiquitous use amongst the population because less people use it, less reason to produce and innovate.

BP: It’s also very data-heavy in terms of processing power. And that obviously requires a good Internet connection. And how many countries around the world have an Internet connection that’s that stable when you factor in, connected devices like laptops, phones, fridges, TVs, your consoles, all that sort of stuff?

Brendon’s Education and Interest n Tech

PvZ: Shifting gears a little, tell me a little bit about your education. How did you get interested in technology? Is it something that you’ve always had ingrained in you?

BP: [laugh] Not at all. I went to a normal school. We didn’t have things like smart tech and AI. People were like, oh, you have to do maths, and maths was my least favorite thing. Probably still is my least favorite thing on the planet, I’m sorry, it’s not for me. But it’s I think because of the way I was taught maths, and I think it’s because of the way it was sort of drilled into me. That whole sort of mentality of we’ve got a class, everyone learns the same way. And we’ve had this discussion, Philip, where not everyone learns the same way. And that’s why your platform is so great.

So I’ve never loved maths and anything that had anything to do with math or technology or science, I was like, nuh-uh, you can keep it. I was the person who loved books and reading and writing and that sort of thing, so I suppose getting to journalism isn’t that much of a surprise.

But I went on a weird tangent after high school. I studied so many different things just because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I even ended up becoming a chef at one stage, so I qualified in that. And then everyone’s response is, wow, what are you going to make me to eat? And I’m like, really? It’s nice if other people cook for me.

And then I somehow weirdly ended up in tech because I remember my grandfather saying, ah, you’ve got to end up in this information technology thing, it’s where the future is. I thought I’ll never do it, I’m never going to do it. I never ended up in IT, but through a weird series of situations and circumstances in life, I ended up working at a tech company. So I started at the bottom, literally at the bottom, answering the phones. Worked my way up and eventually got to be a part of their global launch team. And I think that’s where I sort of really discovered how much I love technology because of the sheer potential it has – not just to shift the world, but to actually do good. And bring good to many people who maybe not have had access to things and information and technology. And also, just because I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek and I was like, wait, this is something that could actually happen! Like, all those weird things you saw, it was like this could actually be a thing now. So I think it was also just the fantasy of it. [laugh]

PvZ: So that’s awesome. If you could go back and give 20-year-old Brendon a bit of advice, what would you do differently?

BP: No one’s ever asked me that question before. I think not even in a sort of tech-related aspect, just in a sort of general life aspect, I think the biggest piece of advice I would have said back in the day is: just do it. This is not an advertisement for Nike, by the way, but I think the biggest thing that many people face is: I want to do this, but I’m not sure. Should I do it? Is it going to work out? What are people’s reactions going to be? Is this the right time?

Just do it. You might even think: Oh, I don’t know enough about this thing. You can learn while you are doing it. You can get better while you’re doing things. And the weird thing is, as much as you think people are paying attention to you, they’re not. They’re more obsessed with what’s going on in their own lives and their own worlds. So just do the thing.

Like even me starting a YouTube channel. I’ve got so many friends who’ve done YouTube for ages. And one of them, Grant Irons has been for years telling me, do the channel. Even Casper Lee was like, do the channel. I was like, ugh … And I’ve got lots of friends overseas who do YouTube channels and they were like, just do the thing, and I was like, I don’t if I can do it. I don’t know how to edit; I don’t like being in front of a camera, blah, blah, blah. They were like, do you think our videos were good when they first came out? You’ll never find those videos. They were awful. You get better by doing, so just do the thing.

PvZ: No, that’s great advice. I think more people need to hear that.

BP: Yea, it’s easy to hear, but I think it’s difficult to take in. But sometimes you’ve just got to take a breath, take the jump and just go for it and see what happens.

The State of Tech in South Africa

PvZ: Yea, good advice. So from a South African standpoint, people always say South Africa is a little bit behind the rest of the world. Is that true? I find that gap has narrowed over the last decade or so.

BP: It is and it isn’t. It is in certain aspects and areas, but I think when you’re looking at technology – and especially the way we’ve adopted mobile technology – I think we’re doing a lot of things that you won’t even see in a country like the US. Like you were saying, smartphones, mobile technology is sort of what you see as the most competitive and the sort of thing that has the most impact. In South Africa I think that I think is definitely true, because more people, I’ll have to double-check the facts here, but more people are buying phones than are necessarily buying laptops. Obviously, COVID has had an impact on that, but sort of normally that’s what the situation is. And that’s given rise to a lot more mobile platforms than you would see in the US. I mean, look at New York, for example. They’ve only now in the last few months, finally just putting the option for you to pay for your metro ticket using your phone. And I’m like, wait, what?

PvZ: It’s taken this long.

BP: Wait, guys, so that was like the end of 2020. I was like it’s 2020, basically 2021, and you’ve only just done this now?

I mean, you were still forced to get cheques. And I’m like, okay, I know we also just finally, officially got rid of cheques, but who was using cheques in South Africa? We’re using SnapScan and all these wonderful, weird platforms that are just working for us.

And you hear people say that, oh, Europe is so much more advanced. Well, yes, in certain things, but they’ve got infrastructure we don’t have. We worked around those things and we’ve adapted for the infrastructure we have. And there’s a lot of great things coming out of this country in terms of how we are using technology to give people opportunities, to educate people, to connect people.

PvZ: Yeah, I mean, speaking about blockchain, South Africa and Nigeria are the two highest-ranked countries in the world, from a Google Trends perspective, for the search term cryptocurrency or Bitcoin.

BP: So I just keep thinking about the days that Simon Dingle told me about Bitcoin when it was still the thing that no one knew about. And he wanted to give me a Bitcoin, and I was like, that’s fine, don’t worry about it. And I sit here, and I’m like, well, it’s one of those moments where you should have just done it [laugh] Simon, give me the Bitcoin!

But I mean that again, that conversation was had in South Africa in person before almost anyone in Europe was talking about it – and definitely, before anyone in the US was having that same level of conversation. And yet now we’re talking about Bitcoin, blockchain, Ethereum, all of these things as these things that are ‘other’, from other countries. But as you say we’ve got a massive impact in terms of what’s happening, what people want to do with it.

And I don’t know about mining it, but South Africa’s got a massive impact on many things, and I don’t think many people realise that.

PvZ: Yea, I think we’ve been given that title as the African powerhouse to a degree, and that’s a relative term. Nigeria has obviously come and surpassed South Africa, simply because of its sheer size as a population, and its growth rate is huge as well.

But I’m bullish on Africa overall. I just look to, or I at least hope for a future where education is made far more accessible, infrastructure is laid out so that that education can be delivered in an affordable and in as widespread a manner as possible, not only in South Africa but across the African continent.

And then, I would think that a lot of innovation is currently coming and will in the future come from Africa. It’s thinking that we’re here to solve African problems. We’re not solving first-world problems like many of the other first-world countries.

BP: I love that that’s what you brought up because I’ve had this conversation with many people at many different stages of my career. And I think the two people I’ve had the best conversation about this with is a wonderful woman called Ife. She is Country Manager/Region Manager for HP Central and Western Africa. Speak under correction if you’re listening to this,  Ife, please, don’t …

And the other one was Elizabeth Marino, who back at the beginning of last year headed up HB Africa. She’s now actually a minister in the French government, which was a move that no one saw coming! [laugh] Literally one day she was in charge of HP for the continent, the next day she was part of the French government, and everyone was like, wait, what?

But the reason why it was such a great conversation with them is because both of them obviously are from the continent. Ife, obviously, she’s from Nigeria and Elizabeth grew up in France. Well, born in France, I think and then grew up here. Or born in Africa and then moved to France somewhere, something like that. But they understand the situation. They understand what the problems are. But also as women, they’ve got another sort of viewpoint on it, which is, I think, different to what men would have because this then brings in that whole question around the gender advantage.

And I think being a woman in tech has been so difficult and also just being a woman, seeing how much education and information can change a village. And I say village in the loose sense where it could encompass a city, a town, but just a community of people. How information and access to that can change people and change lives, I think is so powerful.

And I think because of that, and that they’ve had to work hard to get to where they are, they have a very unique understanding of what some of these issues are when it comes to African solutions for African problems. And the conversations I’ve had with them are, I think, a problem that we see in a lot of places around the world. We see certain countries as this is the country we need to emulate in terms of a culture, a society, or just the way they’ve done things.

And that works to a certain degree, but it doesn’t work if you don’t have the same cultural backgrounds as that country, the same infrastructure, the same access. You’ve then got to use that as a blueprint and say: okay, this is what works and this is what doesn’t. What businesses do.

And I don’t think that Africa as a continent, and I don’t think many countries on this continent have done that. I think they’ve adopted certain other ways of doing things because this is the way it’s done. And I don’t think there’s been enough movement away from there. I think using it as a blueprint is good. But I think we now need to move towards the mindset of, okay, cool, this has worked for that.

How do we start adapting? How do we start looking at other ways of using these things? And I think it’s very difficult because I think life conditions you to look at things a certain way and think about things, as, oh, this is just the norm. So it’s hard for you to step out of it and say, well, what if we did that? And when you try and say that people are liked, hmph, it’s never going to work, it’s stupid, it’s weird. Isn’t that like the whole Apple ethos from way back in the day? Was it think different? Or was there something about being the outcast and the weird?

PvZ: Yes, yes, yes.

BP: It’s that mentality that you need to have. It might not work, but it also might be the thing that does work, and we need more of that. And I think if you look at, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, a younger generation, why do I feel so old? I think that’s what you’re getting. I think you’re getting a lot of people now saying, does this work for me, my community, and my people? Maybe not, so what do we do about it?

And I think questioning things is important, but I don’t think you question things if you don’t have access to information and education that’s going to give you different viewpoints and make you question. Because I think that’s the biggest thing about education. It’s not force-feeding people, it’s teaching you how to think about things and be like, huh, this might not work. And I think that’s probably what the real power of math is, is the ability to problem-solve. Look at something and say, okay, this is the solution or the desired outcome – how do we get there?

The Impact of Technology

PvZ: Yea, I’m glad you brought that up because it’s really about developing that critical thinking framework that’s founded in logic and reason, and that is what maths does help with. And I think a successful education should be less defined by marks and more defined by whether or not that student leaves with hunger and a passion and a deep curiosity for something. It doesn’t matter what that something is.

But if you’ve got a deep curiosity for fashion, or for technology or for engineering, or whatever it may be, with the Internet, you’ll find your way.

BP: Yeah, I think that’s what a lot of people must understand about technology as a whole. Because there’s a lot of conversations I’m sort of putting together with people around the good and the bad of technology and the impact technology has on our life. Because I think the general consensus hearing from a lot of people is things along the lines of, well, Facebook is bad, data security. What about this company? What about that company?

And those are valid points. No one’s denying those points, but you cannot look at just one aspect of something like technology as a whole and say this is bad. Ultimately, technology is a tool. It’s how it’s used that’s causing these results.

And I think it’s the same thing when it comes to education. I think a lot of people like myself, and this is no disrespect to any educator. We were taught in a certain way that maybe didn’t encourage that critical thinking because that’s just the way things were done at that stage. You also had classes that were too big, and there was no capability to do that sort of individualized teaching. And again, we didn’t have platforms like what you guys are doing.

And I think that that, unfortunately, has done a disservice to many people. And again, that’s no fault of any educator, it’s just what it was at that stage. And I think now we’ve got opportunities that we can create for a newer generation, to give them access to everything.

I always make this example. I’ve got a nephew, he’s almost three years old, and it’s so weird to me that this child knows how to use my phone already. He knows how to do it. He wanted to say to me, he wants to phone his mother, so my sister. So he looks at my phone and kind of holds it up like a video call, even though nothing has happened yet, but he knows this.

And I’ve got like seven bajillion pairs of wireless buds and all different shapes and sizes. But as soon as he sees a pair, he looks at them and he points at my ear, he knows what needs to happen. If he’s watching, say, Showmax or something, or Netflix, he knows you can scroll and there’s more things. And it seems like little things, but the fact that he’s not even three and this is normal to him. There’s a whole new world that he’s being exposed to that was not normal for us.

PvZ: Yea, I remember back when we sort of transitioned from these keyboard phones to Blackberries, and from Blackberries-

BP: The T9 keyboards [laugh]

PvZ: And from Blackberries, exactly, and then from Blackberries onto the touchscreen. And your gauge for the level to which somebody had either mastered their phone or was completely hooked on their phone, was the speed at which they can type.

BP: [laugh]

And now for kids, it’s second nature. The typing speed doesn’t even matter anymore. It’s sort of dictation in a way.

BP: It’s weird because I obviously grew up with that first generation of phone. I think my first ever phone was not even a 3310. What was the one with an aerial? The 5110, 55?

PvZ: Something like that.

BP: Yeah, I had one of those, and then I got a 3210 and then I didn’t get a 3310 like all the cool people did. I ended up getting the 35 something, and it was round about then when the first color phones came out and they had like 256 colors or something stupid. But you lost your mind because even now it looks like 8 bit, you were, my word, it’s got color! And the cameras were awful and there were attachments and everything.

But that was the gauge, as you were saying, you still had the T9 keyboard. It was how fast can you type? And now no-one is like, oh, but this person can type so quickly. It’s normal. People are now migrating towards you say dictation. I say, to voice interaction with their technology. Personally, I love sending voice notes. We’ve got a friend in common who knows that I love sending voice notes, and he likes sending voice notes, too.

PvZ: No, he does.

BP: And I’m really happy about that because it’s just easier, but for a lot of people it’s weird. But for me, I also have smart speakers around my house, so I’m used to being like, hey, X, Y, and Z, and I’ve got all the brands. So I’ve got all the different assistants and I’m just used to engaging with my technology that way.

We’re now moving towards a world where it’s not about a touchscreen, it’s about a new way of engaging. And I think that if we do not keep adapting towards that and start thinking about that as we’re developing platforms, products, options, and capabilities, we’re leaving people behind again.

PvZ: Look, with so many devices in your household and the line of work that you’re in, I’m sure you’re using Adblocker, right?

BP: Listen here, I’ve got so many ad blockers and everything, just because I can’t cope with it. Because I jump between OSs, between phones. It’s now technically three OSs because of the whole Huawei situation. So I jump between three. I jump between OSs for laptops and computers. So yes, I do have ad blockers because I spend way too much time online. I know people say that; I spend way too much time online.

PvZ: How many tabs do you have open right now?

BP: On which laptop and which browser?

PvZ: [laugh]

BP: No, honestly, people see my tabs and they’re like, huh, how do you not go insane? I say this is the only way I can keep track of things. And then I’ve got notes open, and then I’ve got a phone or a tablet next to me with other notes on. It’s not good. It’s not healthy.

But I have ad blockers, I have everything to ideally try to minimise as much as I can because I realise how much I’m online and how problematic that actually is. Especially now when we’re all working from home because now you’re not even taking that little bit of time in a commute when you’re not on a phone. Because everyone’s working from home, you’re online even more than you’ve ever been before. Even something like an ad blocker that just minimises the tiniest thing, I’ll take it. Give it to me.

Screentime For Children

PvZ: Yea, it’s important to start setting boundaries for oneself. And I guess for parents that have kids that have sort of defaulted to a lot of screen time over the last couple of months, it becomes important to actually start using these tools. And I know there are tools out there that help you with us.

BP: Oh, yes, listen here, there’s quite a few, and I just keep trying out different ones to see what works. But on the point that you were making about how much time kids actually spend on platforms, I think that’s actually another thing. I feel like I’m the one working at Smartick here! It’s actually another thing that I like about what you guys do. What’s it like, 15 minutes a day?

PvZ: Yea.

BP: And the first time you said that to me, I think you remember how shocked I was, I was like, wait, what, did you say, 15 or 50? And I was like, that doesn’t sound possible. Because when you think about education, you again think back to what you’re used to, which is arguably 8 hours a day, lessons are 30 to 45, 50 minutes, blah, blah, blah, that sort of thing.

And when you said 15 minutes, especially now when kids are spending so much time on their devices because of school, because of entertainment. Because of connecting with people that they cannot physically engage with, whether it’s family in another part of the country or another part of the world.

The fact that you can learn as much in 15 minutes and still have it tailored to you, I think is, it’s not even vital, I think there needs to be another word that describes how important that is. And how game-changing and life-changing that is because, yes, technology can be used for good. We’ve, I think, established that. But I think if you don’t create with intent and you don’t try to solve problems, if you’re just creating and, oh, there’s a need in the market, so let’s jump into that, you’re not fully addressing an issue. Because you don’t necessarily know what all the underlying problems are. It’s like an iceberg situation. You’re seeing the tip of it, and under the water, there’s 75% of the other things that need to be solved.

So, yes, you’re solving the whole math literacy situation, which obviously has a knock-on impact on critical thinking. But you’re also doing it in a manner that is not just convenient for people in terms of how you’re accessing that information, it’s also convenient in terms of time frames. And when I just sat and thought about it the one day, I was just like, this solves so many problems on so many levels that I don’t think people would have thought of.

PvZ: Yeah, and if you look at the way that kids learn in general, we’ll not even kids, human beings. If we sit for extended periods of time, it’s really difficult to have a high degree of focus or attention or concentration. And if you enforce this sort of 15 to 20-minute rule and you prioritise consistency over the length of a study session, 15 minutes a day compounded over seven days, that’s a far more effective than if you have somebody sitting for an hour and 45 minutes in one go trying to work. So that’s one of the things that we work for, and through gamification, obviously able to incentivize kids to get that thing done so that they can access the Virtual World.

And once they’ve accessed the Virtual World, we’ve got brain games that have been specifically developed to stimulate their critical thinking, logic, reasoning, memory, focus, and even physical flexibility games, which is quite cool.

But I think we probably need to start looking at, yea, every time I think about it, I think I actually need to use it for myself.

BP: I said exactly that to you. I was like, I want to try this out for myself, actually, because like I said, I never loved maths. But all of these things that you talk about, it’s not just maths. It’s actually far more exciting. And when I say to you it’s honestly made me rethink how I feel about maths, I might actually, wait, it might want to revisit this whole thing.

PvZ: Great, well, we’ll put you on our VIP list for the next time we release an update! [laugh]

BP: [laugh] So we’re doing like an exchange here? I’ll get you on a VIP list and then I can hopefully become better at not spending all my money.

PvZ: You can beta test our next version or introduce a Spanish reading comprehension.

BP: I’ve got so many apps on beta that I need to test!

Brendon’s View on Education

PvZ: Nice, so look, coming to the end of this conversation, which has been really interesting, we like to ask all the guests a question that you can answer in whatever way you want. And that is, what do you believe about education, the way people should be educated, the way the education system works right now, that most people may disagree with?

BP: An opinion that most people, like an unpopular opinion?

PvZ: Yea, yea.

BP: I don’t think this is one that, actually I don’t know. I think this is one that an older generation will disagree with, I think a younger generation will agree with, is that education doesn’t actually equip you for life. You’re going into classes, and you’re being taught essentially parrot-fashion. And yes, there are useful things you’re being taught, history is useful. I won’t say to a degree because it is useful. Maths is obviously useful, I can’t say it’s not in this situation. Things like geography, but critical skills like actual life skills, those are not being taught. You get LO in schools, but what is that actually teaching you? And I think that that’s one of the biggest things that needs to be looked at from an education perspective. We are not actually equipping kids for what the real world is like.

I mean, it took me forever to figure out how to do my taxes, and I still do not know how to do my taxes. I have to pay someone to do it for me. That should not be the case. And that’s not just a South African case, it’s a global problem now. So I think that’s probably what many older people would disagree with.

PvZ: I think you make a very good point, and I think it extends beyond purely the academic. If you look at the way that the education system prepares kids to deal with things like mental health.

BP: There’s nothing there.

PvZ: And that sort of development of their emotional intelligence, there’s certainly shortcomings in the traditional system in that regard.

BP: I think the world is changing and I think people see that as a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Change does happen in uncomfortable situations. And I think it’s now an opportunity to look in and say almost like the question you asked me, what could you tell yourself when you were younger? What are the things that you needed that would have better equipped you for life when you were younger? Do that, be the person you needed when you were younger, but be that for other people and bring that through. In how we raise people, how we educate people, and how we prepare the next generation for the world.

PvZ: Yea, one of our former podcast guests left a very interesting thought, or at least this was actually sort of a central theme to the whole discussion. But that was that kids need to be straddled with as much responsibility as possible from as young an age as possible. And through that responsibility, they become well-rounded human beings.

And I tend to agree with that.  I’m not saying that kids need to bear the burden of the world on their shoulders, but to give them an appropriate level of responsibility at a young age that allows them to learn that dependability, that self-reliance, skills that you otherwise don’t. But hey, baby steps.

BP: We’ll get there, change does happen, it just takes time.

PvZ: Now, last question. Are you on the Tesla VIP list?

BP: I wish I was (inaudible) but I’m not, unfortunately. Funny enough, though, Reframe is actually getting into motoring, so we’re working our way through. There’s actually a discussion we’re going to be having with some of the motoring companies around recent announcements. Like Apple and both Samsung announced ultra-wideband technology to help unlock your car. So we’re working our way into motoring, so who knows? Maybe one day in the future I’ll just quietly whizz by you in a Tesla.

PvZ: Yea, okay, quickly, last one. I’m going to rattle off a couple of words, and you’re just going to tell me the first one that comes into your head. Which is the best, first that comes to mind, doesn’t matter what, wearable fitness devices?

BP: Oh, Fitbit.

PvZ: Okay, next one, mobile phone?

BP: Phone or brand, as in specific device?

PvZ: Specific device.

BP: The Z Fold 2.

PvZ: Brand?

BP: Samsung.

PvZ: Camera?

BP: Oh, Fuji – I can’t even [laugh]

PvZ: All right, and let’s see one more.

BP: If you’d said laptop, I would have said MacBook.

PvZ: Laptop, MacBook makes sense, but I don’t think that’s a contest, and then automobile?

BP: Honestly, I don’t actually have an answer for that question. I think lots of weird things are happening, and I don’t think there’s a clear leader right now in terms of where things are going.

The Future of The Tech Space

PvZ: What’s the next big thing in the tech space? The next big sort of consumer tech thing that we may be overlooking at the moment?

BP: Ultra-wideband technology. People laugh at me when I say that, but Apple kind of, I wouldn’t say announced it, but very quickly was like, oh, we do this thing when they released the iPhone 12, but everyone said, oh, 5G. And then Samsung did it now, again, with the S21 series. And then everyone said, ah, it doesn’t matter, it just means we can connect to things a little bit better.

It does matter. Because ultra-wideband is now allowing your devices to speak to each other even more securely, and even more devices, and it’s allowing you to do more things. So the Internet of Things and your devices, speaking to each other and connected things, is going to be powered all by ultra-wideband technology – and no one is talking about it.

PvZ: Genuinely, it’s the first time I’ve heard about it.

BP: No, seriously, everyone is just like, oh, Samsung is doing this thing where you can unlock your car using your phone, like Apple. It’s ultra-wideband that’s powering that. You can now do this thing where I could come and visit you, you’re not at home. You can assign a key to me. I can use my phone, tap it against the door, and that ultra-wideband technology is what’s powering the key. The potential for that technology and what you can do is limitless. But no one’s talking about it because what is this thing?

PvZ: I’m going to read up on it. One of the areas that interested me for a while and it seemed to have died down was graphene.

BP: Actually, no, there is still work being done with graphene batteries, but battery technology has stagnated because it’s a very difficult industry to actually succeed in. And the company that I think is arguably doing the most is LG Chem.

So a quick little bit of background for anyone listening. LG, as we know it is actually not just LG that makes fridges and phones and TVs and stuff. They’re actually 16 different companies that make up the LG Corporation. And one of those companies is LG Chem and they do battery technology. In fact, they used to I don’t know if they still do, but they used to do the battery tech for Tesla, and they are actually the world leaders in battery technology. And they were the ones who were closest to the breakthrough in graphene battery technology and battery tech as well. Because whoever cracks that is setting themselves up so well for the next wave of things because everything needs to be powered by something. And right now we’re sitting at a limitation of, I think, the biggest phone battery is 7,000 milliamp hours. You know you can only do so much. Someone needs to crack that, and once they crack that, they win. They power everything. Sorry, I get carried away. [laugh]

PvZ: All right, awesome, awesome. Well, thank you so much, Brendon, and thank you so much, I appreciate it.

BP: Thanks so much.

PvZ: It’s been a great chat.

The Future Minds podcast is brought to you by Smartick. Smartick is an award-winning, intelligent, online mathematics and coding program for kids ages 4 – 14. Powered by sophisticated, adaptive AI, Smartick teaches kids math and coding from the comfort of home in as little as 15 minutes per day. For more information, visit smartick.com or download the app on tablet or iPad today.

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Sabrina graduated from the AAA School of Advertising with a B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications and prior to joining the Smartick Team she started her own digital marketing agency in 2014.
She is the founder and producer of Smartick's podcast called Future Minds with Phil.
In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys horseback riding, reading, and going to the gym. She also loves to travel!
Sabrina Jansen van Vuuren

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