Africa should be wary of the entrapments of social media. Contrary to popular claim of the positive impact of social media, it could as well be the ultimate tool to create dysfunctional citizens in 21st century Africa writes CHIKA NWAKANMA.
A direct consequence of today’s technological society is an altercation in the mode of social interaction and communication. The advent of the social media has had a ripple effect in how humans perceive their environment and how the meet the needs of groups and individuals through communication and social interaction. Physical, cultural, religious and political boundaries are fast dissolving, as the social media is breaking artificial barriers which hitherto restricted inter-group interaction. The world they say, is at your finger tips. The person at the other end of the world is just a few clicks away. So also is social disintegration, especially for the African social structure.
Recent discoveries by researchers have opened up a plethora of questions on the pernicious effects of the social media. Though a powerful unifying force as it has shown in its role in the ‘Arab Spring’, the social media is also fast becoming antithetical to human advancement in a variety of ways. It has been shown that the social media makes children more prone to anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders. Personality development is hampered by the constant use of social media, as more people rather than maintain healthy physical relationships, are turning to their laptops and mobile phones to satisfy their social needs. A group of psychologists from the University of Alberta, Canada, discovered that teens who use social media more often show narcissistic tendencies, while young adults who have a strong online presence show more psychological disorders including anti-social and aggressive tendencies.
Surprisingly, the social media which was initially thought of as a platform which could make it easier for shy and introverted people to come out from their shells, is having a boomerang effect on the character formation of this type of people. They now view themselves through the lens of their online friends, and place self-acceptance on the number of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ they receive. An aggressive personality is bound to drop aggressive and negative comments; such would only attract negative feedback. So also for an outgoing, friendly person who is bound to attract positive feedback based on the positive comments dropped. Bottom line, people’s verbalizations are a reflection of their inner character. The social media would act as a window through which other people can peek into your personality.
Social media tools filter out problematic and emotional issues, which in real life support social and emotional development. Rather than rely on life experiences, educational travel and face to face interaction, people are spending time building relationships with people they don’t care about, and ‘friends’ they barely know.
The social media also has educational implications as it hampers learning. According to a University of Chicago survey, student’s grades are dropping because more time is spent clutching mobile phones or peering into computer screens for reasons other than educational ones. Even symbols which were once the exclusive preserve of chat rooms are now finding their way into exam papers, assignments and term papers. Words such as ‘you’, ‘sleep’,’ nothing’, ‘right’ straight, battery and ‘tomorrow’ are been replaced by ‘U̶̲̥̅̊’, ‘slip’, ‘nufin’, ‘aiit’, ‘str8’, ‘ba3’, and ‘2mrw’.
Productivity is also affected if one is addicted to the social media. It is a huge source of distraction and sensory overload, as the mind is caught in a vortex of things beckoning for attention. This prevents the mind from concentrating, talk less of engaging in critical thinking. Rather, it finds itself pre-occupied with things that don’t really matter like updating one’s status (some even do to show when they are asleep) or catching up on the latest gossip. As such less time is spent on productive endeavours.
The familial institution may yet be the casualty of the changing communication landscape. Altruism and prominence of group goals over individual needs is fast eroding as social media promotes self-seeking attention. People have found succour in the social media as an advertisement tool and a branding mechanism. The ‘free’ expression social media tools offer, have made it possible for the creation of sub-cultures and sub-groups, but mostly dis-oriented individuals who only care about their parochial needs and are oblivious to the norms of their society. Social media feeds on self-gratification. What do such negative effects imply for the African society and culture?
Firstly, Africa is neck deep in poverty, low productivity, low ingenuity and economic development. The continent is a destination for global poverty and underdevelopment. One sure way of liberating the continent from its numerous social anomalies and pathogens is through the liberation of the mind. The capacity of the African mind and its human resource have to be built if the continent is to be relevant in today’s contemporary world. Breaking away from the shackles of neo-colonization, imperialism, and status of a peripheral economy to the West rests not in the tools, but the mind. It is the mind that would create such tools and apply its usage to expected ends. As such, the social media if left unchecked would further entangle young African minds in things of little relevance. Already signs are showing with the fast proliferation of reality TVs and ‘talent’ hunt shows on the continent.
In Nigeria, the West African Examinations Council-WAEC-recorded high failures in its examinations with majority of them in key subjects such as Math, English, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. One of the reasons given was the poor grammatical articulation of the students. Nigeria has the fastest growing telecommunication industry, and the highest number of Google and Opera Mini users on the continent. If the educational system is not engaging the young minds in logical and critical thinking aimed toward preferring solutions for existential problems and challenges, wherein lies its future?
Without education mind development, there would be no foundation for African ingenuity and inventiveness. Africans would continue to be consumers of other people’s ideas. The continent is already deeply immersed in under-productivity due to the under utilization of the mind and tools on one hand, and the absence of an enabling environment characterized by corruption, infrastructural decadence and an insensitive government, on the other hand. The social media would only catalyze this dormancy.
Family and kinship ties are the crux of the African society. The African family is built on a strong kinship basis made possible by conformity to group ideals and expectations. The extended family systems, township unions and “parapo” associations have been largely responsible for the low rate of divorce, juvenile delinquency, single motherhood and lately homosexuality. However, how long the familial institution would be able to stem the anti-social avalanche of the social media is a question of time. Wilhelm Hofmann led a team of researchers from Chicago University’s booth business school to track how much people wanted to use the social media. Researchers gave Blackberry phones to 205 people between the ages 18-85 in the German city of Wurzburg. The study found that the desire to participate in social media websites was only surpassed by their desires for sleep and sex. Mobile phones have become an extension of ourselves. African youths spend their time forming relationships with people they don’t care about, basing opinions of themselves from these strangers. This has dire consequences for the socialization process as phones rather than the family or the kinship system would have the responsibility of socializing the youth into a global culture. This weakens social cohesion and transference of indigenous knowledge, cultural norms and values would be replaced by alien ones.
The African society has to brace up for the inherent challenges of the social media. Though the social media can be a destructive force, it can also be put to positive uses. Measures have to be taken to adapt the media in education and cultural proliferation, but also caution has to be exercised so that it does not replace the role of family and loved ones in socializing new members of the society.
Rather than rely on life experiences … people are spending time building relationships with people they don’t care about.
How long the familial institution would be able to stem the anti-social avalanche of the social media is a question of time.