Social Sanity versus Social Media

Ever since the advent of mobile devices as the new millennium dawned upon us in Nigeria, I have been opportune to use different kinds of phones. As the market improved with new models also did my taste change. Blackberry, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony Ericson and Tecno – I have used most of it.

The interesting thing about these devices however is the access to knowledge I could get from them through the internet. My visits to the cyber café became less and less often as I could check my email and use search engines at the click of a button. Life was good. Then Eskimi and other chat sites sprang up and the internet turned to a platform for meeting with new people. I was having friends that even went as far as dating these ‘faceless’ friends. It was altogether fantastic. Before I knew it everyone was joining a new rave called Facebook. You have friends you poke, write what’s on your mind and post pictures of yourself. Gradually the world was shrinking from the huge ball of mass to a global village linked from one device to the other. Privacy was ebbing away like the rocks on a seashore. Nowadays the new love of the internet is not just Twitter anymore but Instagram.

These days, people do not exist in the real world anymore. They are swirled into an endless vortex of tweets, posts, chats, smileys and what not. Person to person communication has been reduced to chats on Whatsapp, Blackberry Messenger and Wechat. My brother for an instance will not so much as actively engage you in a conversation or be involved in his immediate social environment unless his phone’s battery gets flat or his data becomes exhausted. As long as that phone is charged up (he uses the phone plugged to the socket, reminding me of a dog tied to a pole) and he has subscribed to a data plan, forget cracking a joke with him or sharing an experience for that period, at least until he is socially sane again.

For more than 6 months now I have been humbly using a Nokia torchlight phone that has only the primary features of calls and SMS. It is really frustrating to use a phone like that in today’s world where you need to know something and all you need to do is to Google it. I have to list everything I want to learn about first until I have a chance to do so. But yet I enjoy the opportunity to appreciate my surroundings and the people in it better. I can even spend more time thinking and reflecting. Most of all I can give a person most of my attention as I talk face to face with another human being.

As a student of human behavior, I have come to see how B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning has come to practically reveal itself in social media. The euphoria that young people enjoy whenever they get a 100 likes and 50 comments on an Instagram or Facebook picture (especially the female folk) or when a person tweets something and voila he sees 10 retweets. These positive outcomes as rewards and reinforcements create a cycle of behavior that is hard to break because the individual would want a repeat of this feedback. This is what drives most people to put up online the most stupid and bizarre things you can imagine:

A just cooked plate of food,

Himself at a popular retail store,

‘Watching Batman 2 at XYZ Cinemas’ she tweets

-all to get the attention of the world. His/her happiness unfortunately rests on people’s decision to respond in one way or the other to these posts. Through these insane acts some folks have gone the Kim Kardashian way of self sabotage.

I strongly believe social media is a fantastic platform if you know how to put it to good use. A while ago I could not attend an event due to certain constraints but I followed the conversation on Twitter and I was mightily impacted even though I was thousands of miles away. That was the social media as a learning opportunity. I also know as a fact that President Barack Obama of the United States is partly in the White House today because of a strong social media presence during his campaigns. The Arab Risings that occurred a year ago would not have had a massive force for change without the social media. Social media can literally change the world for an individual, organization or people that garner the large population of the platform to its benefits. I do not condemn having fun on such platforms but if it’s all a person does with all his time, then there needs to be a rethink. Education for many years now has gone beyond the classroom to the endless space of the internet. Ignorance is no more an excuse as just about anything is available for knowing through our friend Google. This calls for a balance on the part of everyone that is an ardent user of the social media. Try to put that phone with all its notifications away once in a while as you play a game of scrabble with your siblings or hang out with friends. Facebook, Whatsapp, 2go or BBM can never give the pleasure and connection that comes with a voice call.

All said I hope this inspires you towards a step towards the sunshine of social sanity and away from the dark cervices of the sanitarium of social media in our fast paced-jaw breaking-jet aged- 21st century.

Oluwatobi Gbemisola

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