Socially Speaking…

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By Kabelo Mollo

In or around 2012, I asked a deep-thinking friend of mine why he was depriving the social media of his thoughts. I insisted his analyses would be fantastic for the discourse.

He made an analogy for me; he said social media is like going to a popular mall, climbing up to the roof, and shouting down what you had for lunch, and then adding your thoughts on a particular topic you had absolutely no business discussing. He said, your thoughts would then be responded to by a cross section of society.

I could hear by the way he said “cross section” that he was being disparaging. He said even in our circles there were people it was pointless engaging, but that “God loves all of us”. I wasn’t entirely sure where in the scheme I fell, so I opted not to push it any further. The person in question is still not on social media really, and still holds the same view about that “cross section”. Intellectuals and their eccentricities.

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I love social media. I’ve been lapping it up since I first heard of MySpace. What a weird and wonderful innovation I used to think to myself. Just when I was being impressed by the connections I had made on that medium, a friend who lived in London at the time invited me to sign up to Facebook. “This will make staying in touch so much easier” she assured me from a snowy London town. I registered nonchalantly, rather expecting to find her and five or six friends from school ready to share stories, pictures and find memories.

Not long after that I was at a braai with some mover shaker banking friends who asked whether I’d seen the bit about social media and the growth path it was on a in a popular business publication recently. I most certainly had not, as the print media I consumed consisted largely of sports, and politics. Anything in between was considered superfluous frivolity by my narrow mind. My banker friends told me unequivocally that, that was where the next boom was to emerge.

Of course I was sceptical having just seen the dot com bubble burst. I was aware though that I had neither the range nor grey matter to engage on the economics of the matter, but I did chime in that I had recently registered to one such medium. We all agreed that the future was upon us, and that we all needed to be a part of this trend.

What followed was mind-blowing with friend request upon friend request, of new friends, and old friends, acquaintances and work buddies alike. It was a deluge of connections and interaction! Seeing pictures of good times, with old friends was the best thing I had never imagined. It was as though a part of me had come alive. Every day a new person made connection and every day my appreciation for the medium grew. The early days of social media, really were the best!

I can’t remember life before social media. Shooting texts off, and calling one another?! That sounds so terribly ancient. Not being able to complain about poor service on the net, not being able to watch my beloved Manchester United with the rest of the global audience? How? How on earth did we get by without it? I’m talking about random interactions, meanwhile there are people who are pledging to spend their whole lives together because they met ‘online’.

It is completely acceptable parlance to talk about “meeting someone online”. In fact, I dare say, the novelty has become meeting somebody at a bar and beginning a relationship when pitted against the act of finding love on social media or digital media.

There is much good that can be done online, but as with most things ‘nothing is all good’ and the ugly side of humanity can often be displayed on social media. Bullying, bigotry, scamming and other ills are laid bare on the various platforms. Perhaps this why there is so much contempt for it from various sections of society, including but not limited to politicians in Lesotho who don’t seem to be so enamoured with the medium.

I think they might be missing a trick here though. It is such an effective medium for dissemination of information. It is also a quick fire way of getting one’s point across, as former President Trump showed on so many occasions. In fact, former President Obama was the first American candidate to make effective use of digital media. Our politicians and government officials ought to take a leaf out of that playbook and use the good points of social media to make life easier for themselves.

Social medias influence is extending in to traditional media and beyond. It has become part of the daily tapestry, to such an extent that Congress in America and other regulatory bodies are now starting to look at how to reign in the giant parent companies that own the media. Much water will flow under that bridge undoubtedly, but to us end users, we have to make sure that we use the platforms wisely. They afford an opportunity for access, and it would be clever of us to make sure we leverage that access and knowledge for good.

Indeed, it allows for participation of a cross section of society, it would be folly of us not to use the opportunity to learn from one another.