By Akinlolu Abayomi
Technology could be said to have begun in the year 330, 123 BCE when Grank Gronleus took a stone and clipped another stone into a spear point. The origin of GSM is also traced to 1975 when Henry Kieffer from the Swiss PTT suggested Europe needed to find a new spectrum for mobile at 900 MH3. The setting up of GSM was the next significant milestone. It is instructive to note though that one of the reasons why GSM was so attractive to developing countries was that it is a complete communications network and over five billion people, representing 80 percent of the world’s population, are believed to have a cell phone. Many Third World countries have actually circumvented the infrastructure and gains of landlines entirely and have gone straight to using cell phones. The cellular phones and other devices have brought a lot of advantages and good things. Topping the list of these is the ease and convenience of the dissemination of information, with interactions among people made livelier, more active, enjoyable and particularly interesting.
The coming of the social media makes participation and interaction on different platforms of communication much more interesting and participatory. It is really a case of communication made easy, as important meetings could be held by participants scattered across different locations. It is, no doubt, an advanced technology that has brought a lot of good things. Part of the advantages also is that it could assist in keeping records and could serve as resource fonts for write ups that are intellectually bent. On a sad note, our situation could also be likened to a case of being ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’, considering the negative implications social media has also recorded, taking us into a situation of confusion.
It is high time we realised the need to exercise caution and enjoy only the advantages attendant upon advancing technology, leaving out the negative traits that come with it. The urge to be rated as most active, most performing, and most informed on the different social mediascape has recorded violent assaults on the very fabric of what remains of the African culture of empathy. Ordinarily, it is African to show empathy, to show kindness, to register concern, to offer help and assistance to people in distress. In African countries, a total stranger could easily be sheltered once the person relates his or her message and makes a request for assistance in an humble way.
The social media has however eroded valued African characteristics in us. In the past, if a person were macheted to death, children and women are kept away from the gory sight of the mutilated body and only a few elders are allowed to look at the corpse before burial. Corpses of people who died in strange circumstances were equally ferried to the evil forest with quick dispatch. However, these days people, even including friends and associates of a victim would rush to take photographs of a disaster scene and quickly upload these on social media, which are then likely to go viral subsequently. At the scene of any fatal road accident, the primary concern is the rush to take photographs and upload these on the Internet. It is saddening that while these happens, the majority of other road users do not bother to first ask for FRSC’s emergency numbers or offer to rescue. Standing aside to take photographs is all they desire, and once done with this, they simply return to their vehicles and resume their trips.
In the past, people only want to capture pictures of joyful moments. In those days, the saying, ‘koju maribi’ (may we never witness evil) had meaning, however now, people struggle for vantage positions to bear witness to accidents and other gory sights. As such, the importance and respect accorded to the human form are gradually departing us, and diminishing from our collective subconscious. In the past when death was recorded, children and young people in the area would avoid such a scene like a plague, and for days might not be able to sleep or walk alone in the night; but nowadays the gory sights from accidents and other fatalities are far from being scary to even teenagers. What is astonishingly shocking and disappointing is the sort of celebration attached to the photographs of such happenings. These are not only freely shared on social media but the feelings, the mood and the sensibilities of families of the victims are considered unnecessary and irrelevant. Such acts are inhumane and anti-social.
In Yorubaland, it is considered a taboo for Obas to see corpses. However, if an Oba is your friend on social media and you share pictures of corpses and accident victims, one can only wonder what the traditional ruler’s reaction would be. The African culture of empathy is gone. The miasma of depression is visible on the faces of the older generation when they watch or see how daring the new generation could be. It is an unassailable fact and modern reality that we cannot do away with technology and the GSM phones and networks, social media, etc., that have come in the name of development and civilisation. However, in our present lateral form of thinking, what we need to do is identify where the use of technology is in conflict with African culture and values, and avoid these. Even if the sense of empathy known with Africans has almost or fully departed us, I think the respect for human lives should stay.
Akinlolu Abayomi is an Ilorin based journalist.