#FutureThink- Social Media

The Future of Social Media

Every individual is a product of their primary orientation. No force is greater in informing our primary orientation than that which is called communication.

Communication in whichever form; be it through spoken or written word, music, gestures or symbols, is central in informing how we relate to each other and behave as a result.

With the advent of social media in Tanzania, a country that was never really bathed in the daunting but arguably important waters of broadcast media and the big screen, one cannot help but wonder what the behavioral implications for her people will be.

Broadcast media, which I closely associate with the big(ger) screen, by its nature, is a more consensus driven medium forcing us to find a common ground of shared values that we can project. This ends up putting a lot of pressure on the source to speak to, or at least to speak on behalf of a significant mass in order to be trusted (if not just relevant).

This is what I call a ‘trusted’ source communication culture, where we seek to know the source just as much as we seek to know.

This era of social media, as opposed to broadcast media, and small(er) screens as opposed to big(ger) ones has had the effect of removing emphasis on the ‘trusted’ source (which usually means one source you can trust) by making everyone potentially a ‘trusted’ source and this, I believe, cannot happen without consequences.

Context becomes key in understanding where this is heading.

The social media explosion in Tanzania has been a phenomena talked about extensively but never really explained. Why, for instance, a country that for long lagged behind in internet penetration, a critical factor in social media adaptation, if not, penetration, has become a force to reckon with in the region and beyond when it comes to social media. Do we love our celebs more? Do our celebs have more influence? Are we more tech savvy?

My quick and high level review of this phenomena links this spike to the analogue-to-digital cut-over that took place a few years back leaving many without access to news and visual entertainment, which were staples in the diet of many Tanzanians not easily retractable. With many people suddenly being cut off from broadcast media, as a result, the only place they could go to quench their thirst for anything visual was their handsets (a less costly option to the immediate cost of investing in a decoder and in some cases TV set resulting from the cut-over). More that being a source, the handset gave them additional powers to be a source!

To top this off, there was already, albeit underground and sheepishly, an insatiable appetite for reality TV that had taken root in the market as a result of major reality TV hits like Big Brother Africa (BBA) that made the traditionally taboo habit off ‘snooping’ into people’s personals suddenly a cultural mainstay. And what better way to delve into people’s personals than through a window that they leave wide open every day themselves?

So in what seemed to be a stroke of ingenious misfortune, Tanzania found herself stumbling onto something “HUUGE”; putting it ahead of the pack, yet again; leading to a cause for real celebration.
But this celebration may not be long lived.

These great strides in optimizing communication and giving everyone a voice introduce unique challenges in navigating our social conscience, especially for a country like this one which lacks a shared identity that we can fight for and an established ‘trusted’ source communication culture that we can bank on to carry us safely through these rough waters.

We are living in a generation where we know less about more (unlike days gone by when people knew more about less);go everywhere and further but reach nowhere (unlike days gone by where people went nowhere but reached everywhere and further) and believe in everything but what really matters (unlike days gone by when people believed in only what mattered and nothing else).

With schools and parents not pulling their weight in on navigating our social conscience; governments consumed by politics of state capture and rent seeking as opposed to development and religious bodies focusing on filling churches more than filling hearts; who is teaching our youth and what are they learning from them?

Is it enough just to ride the bandwagon of celebrity influx without asking ourselves in earnest - what more?

I am a true believer in celebrity and mass influence without a doubt. But I am compelled to ask in this moment: should an artist like Diamond Platinum, who chanced fame and fortune from the grips of ridicule and poverty promote his story as an average narrative for others to follow or should he use his coveted platform to encourage marginalized young people to follow a path that is more likely to be within their ‘average’ even if it’s not as glamorous. I mean celebrity is really cool but if a population of 50million has 1 diamond and a handful of gold nuggets, what does that say about your prospects if you single-mindedly aspire to be a musician without putting your other affairs in order. Consequently if someone in this position does not make it (which is very likely) they then find out, often under very compromising circumstances, that the only orientation they have is to wake up at 11am in the morning and head to the studio before they plunge into a night of star gazing and boozing…

In more advanced markets (I wonder why they call them this:) people stick to the grind irrespective; work odd hours, attend school rigorously and then try their chance at a breakaway career in music and not the other way around as is the case in Tanzania (the not so developed market). In the process these type of musicians build their orientation around a strong work ethic that assures them longevity in a trade that is notorious for one hit wonders and 15minutes of fame, especially for those who really don’t have the grit to endure pain often cover up by over-the-top glam.

Social media in Tanzania may not agree with me.

Social media in Tanzania is (as may be the case elsewhere) 99% celeb life and 1% real life; while the reality we know every day is 1% celeb life and 99% real life. So much so, that someone hustles in the scorching heat of day into the dead of night for 99% of their time doing ‘donkey’ work only so that they can invest all the money they have earned into a ‘feel good oi oi’ moment that consumes 1% of their time so that they can ‘also’ be able to post and share and become a ‘trusted’ source for legions to less informed followers. This is what our young people are being taught to mean success. I know the saying goes: struggle in silence and let your success do the talking but I don’t think this is what it means.

One of the gravest consequences of social media, in this country, is this 99%/1% dilemma, which has the unintended consequence of removing our young people from seeing the urgency in taking responsibility for their real lives NOW as they comfortably pass time (that will never be recovered) in their virtual ones.

And here I have refrained from dwelling on the instant and immediate culture resulting from social media that denies young people a sense of purpose beyond individual events and patience enough to deal with this reality in anticipation of something else, if not, something more. This, I will leave for my next piece in the #Futurethink series: social media - the reality boom/doom!?

Leave Comments / Reviews