On Silly Questions and The Arrival Of Social Media

In the past five years I have had to contend with complaints about me flooding people’s timelines on the social medium Facebook given my tendency to share my opinions on any particular subject at anytime; as well as fielding dim-witted questions like ‘Whether I am a politician?’ The question of whether yours truly is a politician stems from my penetrating interest in history and politics. I slightly resented the question as much as I do now-given that being a politician is a career and I, on the other hand was pursuing a field of study far from politics- yet I took time to explain to these unwitting individuals that one is permitted to be an avid enthusiast of history and politics without having to be a politician. Suffice to say that what I had assumed to be an enlightened explanation did not satisfy the supple minds that posed this rather unfortunate question, given that five years later I found myself being hauled aside into a private corner, to answer yet again if I am a politician or do I harbour secret wishes of becoming one. I am not really sure when did I have to start explaining myself to people; but here I am explaining myself.

In their latest book The Fall Of The ANC: What Next?, members of The Midrand Group, Prince Mashele and Mzukisi Qobo made an interesting, bare-knuckled observation of what has become of the ruling party, the ANC. They write thus: ‘The ANC is incorrigible. Its leaders have chosen to suspend all rationality and have instead delegated thinking to their stomach.’ Despite what might seem as a direct attack on the people’s movement, the observers are correct. Unfortunately this disturbing behaviour is not exclusive to the ANC leadership who seem to have adopted the ‘It is our turn to eat’ mentality. The great masses of our people are also guilty of suspending all rationality and delegating their thinking someplace else; heaven knows where. This can be discerned from narrow-minded questions I am constantly being asked with the vivacity of a teenager and the brimming confidence of a pea-cock. Imagine if one asked if you are a soccer player because you are constantly going on about the ‘beautiful game’ or if you are gay because you refuse to stand aside and watch homosexuals being treated as outcasts. Our limited thinking is paralysing our nation, and that we are flaunting it is further embarrassing. It would do us right to hurry and retrieve our mental faculties wherever we have accidentally disposed them. The ship is sinking and we are drowning in the ocean of stupidity.

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The second burning issue is what my people have termed the constant ‘flooding of their timelines.’ This means that one particular person shares their opinions or updates their statuses so much that he or she is the only one who seems to be active on the medium. This cry would be understandable in reality in a case of an individual being the only one who is doing the talking, without allowing anyone to utter as much as a single word, that it somewhat turns into a tedium-inducing conversation. But the rules are different on social media. Each and every one of us has an independent account-unless if you lost the independence of your account to your partner; a problem that is not ours but yours-which they are fully in control of.

The idea behind the invention of social media was to grant ordinary men and women around the globe the liberty to express their concerns, share ideas, voice opinions and so on and so forth and beautiful stuff like that however and whenever they please. This is the little fruit of freedom that man can taste. It is common knowledge amongst the truly enlightened in our society that absolute freedom in this world is a mere fantasy. Man has a tendency of wanting to impose his will over his fellow man, consequently trampling on the freedom of his fellow man.

For centuries man had to rely on others to convey their concerns, ideas and opinions; often the message being conveyed suffered distortion and misinterpretation at the hands of the messenger. South Africans who were born about forty-years ago or earlier would recall vividly the horrors of suppression of speech and opinion under the oppressive rule of the Apartheid regime; a rather strenuous exercise for the mind since man is naturally a very expressive being, be it vocally or otherwise.

A typical modern example of the unreliable messenger mentioned above is print media. Magazine and newspaper editors with their red pens are stooges of the anti-expression campaign. Any piece of writing that threatens to undermine their agenda or perceived to be treading on the path of veracity is immediately relegated to the dustbin; lest the message upsets the exclusive circle of those who are uncomfortable with the truth. The practise of censorship reigns supreme in newsrooms while freedom of speech has become an ideal topic of conversation to delude the light-minded, to assure them that all is well. Man’s concerns are ignored, his ideas are not considered and his opinions are forever suppressed.

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But the invention of social media brought with it alternative platforms where man can express himself freely. Mere mortals can take to these various platforms to lend voice to their concerns and opinions without fear of suppression. Ideas are readily shared and never before has freedom of speech had such a definite expression. Thus it is only fair that when we traverse these social platforms with the brazenness of an infant we take a moment to reflect and appreciate the brains that have made this possible. Technological pioneers like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, WordPress’ Matt Mullenberg are some of the brains that deserve our infinite praises. Their innovations have contributed immensely to the little freedom of expression that is today enjoyed by ordinary men, women and children around the globe.

The power of social media cannot be ignored, and most certainly it cannot be underestimated. Those who keep abreast with current affairs will remember clearly the events of 2011 when the governments of Egypt and Tunisia were sent toppling down at the hands of social media. That is the power of social media. Since then governments around the world have been wary of this new social technology, some banning it and some using it to spy on their citizens. Most recently London and Washington have come under a lot of severe criticism for eavesdropping on their citizens. A sober mind would say this is rather rich coming from USA and England given their pompous, self-proclaimed attitude as the examples of moral principles.

Now we have seen on social media, in my case on Facebook, that some amongst us have declared themselves the watchdogs or editors of social media. These individuals dictate to us when we can say what we wish to say and how much we can say. Our little freedom is forever under threat. Man is susceptible to his constantly swelling ego thus forever trying to impose his will on his fellow man; proving once again that absolute freedom is an idea that will only exist within the confines of our imagination. Kgotsong!

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