Hazard of Internet age

One of the biggest and most recalcitrant problems in Nigeria today is the rapid disappearance of a reading culture. Many people barely read even newspapers, preferring instead to spend their time chatting on social networking sites. And others use it for fraudulent and heinous acts.

It is difficult to escape the influence of social networks. The trouble of being born in the social networking age is that it discourages concentration and encourages serial, kaleidoscopic exposure. Its variety becomes a narcotic, not a stimulus; you consume not what you choose and when, but when they choose and what.

In our grandparents’ eyes, such a prodigious waste of time would have been sinful because it is not used constructively for self-improvement, building moral character and shaping our own destinies. Our grandparents would have regarded it as sloth, escapism, perpetually sucking on visual candies. Yet, they would probably have found social networking just as difficult to resist as we do.

Almost anything interesting and rewarding in life requires some constructive, consistently applied effort. But not social networking sites that force us to follow their lead. They force us to live as though we were on a perpetual guided tour: three hours on Facebook, two hours on Twitter, three hours on MySpace, four hours on 2go, etc. The chats are always about romance, gossip or attempts at phishing ― an unlawful way of obtaining people’s identities for fraudulent purposes.

In short, too much social networking usurps one of the most precious of all human gifts ― the ability to focus your attention on yourself ― something only humans can do. Social networking sites have adopted a particular device to do this to capture one’s attention and hold it, because that is the prime motive of any social networking site.

The economics of social networking sites require them to assemble the largest possible audience for every moment (because that enhances its role as a profitable advertising vehicle). They live in fear of losing subscribers, rich or poor, dull or bright. So, the safest technique to guarantee mass attention is to keep everyone happy and allow them unlimited freedom.

I see the ethos of evil socialization pervading this nation and its culture. I think that evil socialization has become a model in all social networking sites, where their management allows people unhindered liberty to do what they like. I think it has become fashionable to think that social networks are the way to build a relationship and engage in romance.

I do not think that education is immune to the virus. And the responsibility of education is enormous. Teachers should reconsider the casual assumptions which social networking tends to cultivate ― that bite size is the best, complexity must be avoided, nuances are dispersible, qualification impedes the simple message, visual stimulation is a substitute for thought, and that verbal precision is an anachronism.

Literacy may not be a human right but the highly literate founding fathers might not have found it unreasonable or unattainable. We have not only failed to attain literacy as a country, statistically speaking but are also falling farther and farther short of attaining it. And while I would not go straight in suggesting that social networking sites are the cause, I believe they contribute to it and are an influence; for the dull a substitute, for the brilliant a diversion.

In our schools and homes today, teachers and parents think that social networking is the best way to impart knowledge and create relationships. It has dire consequences, as students have abandoned reading but that does not mean that social networking is not good for students.

If it must be involved in the process of learning, its use must be critical and more selective. I believe it is called “Internet literacy” if it is used to whet the appetite of students for other discipline and courses. It becomes useful if it is used to prepare a child for core competence and build skills that will positively benefit society in the future. But that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about the tendency that I have noticed to surrender to the ethos that social networking subtly purveys: the idea that things are gotten easily, with little effort; that information can be absorbed passively; that by reading few lines online and looking at pictures, children are absorbing as much information as they might through printed pages. That is what I mean by pandering to the easy virtues of social networks, of letting young people believe that ideas are conveyed by tasty bits; that intellectual efforts need not be applied; that you can get it (as they say) quickly and painlessly.

When, in human history, has humanity collectively surrendered so much of its leisure time to one toy, one mass diversion? When did all classes and kinds of men surrender themselves wholesale, making their minds, psyches and bodies prisoners of a medium?

The world is being force fed with trivialities, with ill-perceived effects on habits of mind, language, and our tolerance for effort and our appetite for complexity. Those are the adverse effects of social networking sites.

In my opinion, there should be a way to balance freedom with responsibility for using social media. Parents must endeavor to educate their wards on the dangers of the Internet and allow them to use it profitably. Today’s teenagers are online doing practically nothing but chatting all day. They could channel their energy into research using their phones, laptops or tablets to increase their knowledge which will in turn increase their academic performance. This way, we will reduce if not eradicate criminal urges and tendencies.

Uwalaka Temple is an MBA student of Solbridge International School of Business at Woosong University in Daejeon.

*This is also published on The Korea Times. Email him at ubadinachi@yahoo.com

The AsiaN Editor news@theasian.asia

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