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Meet the stars of Instagram

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When Instagram was named South Africa’s fastest growing social network, a surprise was who emerged as its biggest stars. However, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK reveals the real local heroes of the photo sharing network, and what makes them tick.

It may not be the biggest social network in South Africa, but Instagram is growing at a pace rarely seen in the world of online sharing. In the past year, it grew by 133 per cent in South Africa, from 1,1-million to 2,68-million users, according to the newly released SA Social media Landscape 2016 report.

Instagram started life as a photo-sharing app for iPhones, but has become a new frontier in photography and in the lives of celebrities. It is the latter who dominate the network locally, with two TV personalities, Minnie Dlamini and Bonang Matheba, each having more than half a million followers.

The next five highest-followed users are also in the entertainment game. All have one thing in common: most of the images they post are of themselves.

It is only at number eight that we find creative content being posted, and that is where we begin to see the true stars of Instagram emerge. The 8th most followed South African on Instagram, Gareth Pon (or @garethpon), is also the most followed photographer in the country, with close to a quarter million people on the lookout for his highly creative and original techniques.

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Gareth Pon’s Instagram home page

He is followed at number 10 by landscape photographer Craig Howes at just under 200 000 followers, and then a clutch of another five photographers in the top 20. Pon is also founder of an organisation of South African “Igers” – serious Instagramers – which has grown to more than seven thousand members since it began in 2013.

He himself makes a living as a globetrotting photographer, with most of his work coming off the back of his Instagram profile – and from major brands’ growing awareness of the power of the medium.

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Craig Howes’ Instagram home page

“Instagram has only started being utilised as a platform for marketing this year,” he says. “Many brands are just playing games around the space and have failed to execute Instagram as a platform for marketing. We all have a long way to go, because it’s such a new space, but if you speak to the right people and use the right perspectives, then you can use it in the most unique ways.”

His active role in building a community around Instagram is an indication, however, that he regards people as a priority.

“I believe that Instagram has a great way of showing people that they can be creative without needing to be too hard on themselves. Hundreds of smaller communities have sprung up and there are ‘instameets’ happening all the time. I just wanted to let those people find a place where they could spend time with others who have a common passion.

“The other reason I did this was to expose the beauty of South Africa to the world, in a small way. “

He pays little attention to the media personalities whose selfies and egos dominate Instagram in South Africa.

“If you engage with the platform on an international level, you very quickly realise how huge it is within the photography and creative space. All the divas, personalities and egos may have a large following, but ultimately most of them will never ever publish a beautiful image.”

Ironically but not unexpectedly, Pon is taken more seriously outside South Africa than inside. It is partly a mark of the immaturity of the platform in South Africa, but also of its rapidly increasing importance globally.

“South Africa unfortunately carries very little respect for Instagramers. I’ve worked with some reputable brands on an international level – Nike, Absolut Vodka, Mercedes, CNN, to name a few. To be honest I’ll rarely take on work in South Africa, because it consumes so much time where I could put the same time into gaining more international traction.”

Nevertheless, he remains committed to the local Instagram community.

“The initial inspiration was discovering the beauty of our cities again. As an international community we find ourselves making connections on a global scale; there are friends in every city and there is always someone who can show you the beauty of their city. I like to believe that the Igers South Africa community is the friendliest you’ll meet in the world.

“My hope is that as Instagram and the community changes, we’ll begin to see and embrace a new way of capturing South Africa. We’ll see our stories come alive through images and, as we discover our stories, we’ll see South Africa captured in a way it’s never been captured before.”

Inside the igers

The igersouthafrica Instagram account is curated by University of Cape Town postgraduate student Dean Horwitz, better known on Instagram as @mediamandean. He relaunched IgersUCT in 2014 as a space for sharing photos taken at UCT, and also helps out with IgersCapeTown.

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Dean Horwitz’s Instagram home page

“On a personal level, the biggest benefits are that you get to meet new people who share the love and passion for photography, which often translates into immediate friendships,” says Horwitz. “You get to attend instawalks and instameets, which offer opportunities to take photos of unique and different locations as well as an opportunity to meet people who you follow online. These meets and walks offer a fantastic opportunity to improve your photography, learn from other people and occasionally to work with some incredible brands.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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A screenshot of Arthur Goldstuck’s Instagram home page.

Top 7 South African photographers on Instagram

1. @garethpon (Gareth Pon) 246 000

2. @craighowes (Craig Howes)195 000

3. @levonlock (Levon Lock) 139 000

4. @unclescrooch (Ofentse Mwase) 136 000

5. @roywrench (Roy Potterill) 132 000

6. @rowaneva (Rowan Eva) 116 000

7. @ciden (Jacob K) 106 000

Hone your Instagram creativity

Gareth Pon has taken Instagram to a level of creativity that most casual users and followers never encounter, let alone produce. His greatest wish, he says, is that ordinary users learn some of these techniques, or at least attempt to take and post a creative photo. He has created a concise Instagram branding course on a learning site called Skillshare, at http://skl.sh/1MjuTs2. He also recommends two apps to edit images: Snapseed and VSCO

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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