Twenty-First Century Offline Nation




It has been, according to the Bible, seven thousand years – or, according to science, 10,000 years – since the first forms of civilisation. And it has been a few decades since mankind came up with a simple, and yet complex, digital phenomena known as the internet.

The idea behind the invention, at first, was to connect some computer servers that were to be used for military purposes. But the discovery was later proved to be optimal for businesses too: information at the click of the mouse was money at one’s fingertips. The human spirit then demanded further enhancements – not anything of the technical type though, but community driven ones. The internet was domesticated, first to thousands, then to millions and finally to billions of the world’s inhabitants.

The past four years have seen a boom in the usage of the internet in day to day matters. About four percent of the Ethiopian population, however slight that may seem, is hooked to the World Wide Web. We have come to a point where a lot of our work and social life depends on this new platform. We are, and should be, addicted, and life seems inconceivable, for me at least, without being able to search for something on Google, or read someone’s biography on Wikipedia. Everyone will agree, I’m sure – life is far better now than it has ever been.

As I write this article, I am sitting in an Internet café. Why not home? Because there is no internet connection; because I feel suffocated; because there is a part of me that believes for every single second I spend disconnected, I am being left behind by a world that already has a running start. I am sure I am not the only one that feels this way, and indeed, trying to make it in a computer infested world without the internet is like trying to invent the automobile in the Bronze Ages.

But there are more important matters in Ethiopia today than me and my kind trying to make it. There is death, chaos and destruction. Local and foreign media state that there are various problems around certain parts of the country – that vehicles and some private and state-owned properties are being destroyed – but that is all I have to go on. And that is all a lot of people have to go on too.

Keeping the situations of this developing country in mind, the economic sector should try to device new and novel ways to cope with an internet addicted population. This type of internet dependency makes people expect goods and supplies from industries at breakneck speed and with complete efficiency. Information too, which was the primary purpose of the internet, should be consigned to less technology bound devices, like books and newspapers. In other words, there is going to have to be more book reading, which is a good thing even in a time of peace and order.

The biggest causality of the internet interruption was social media. I am barely a Facebook user; I may check my account once a month at the very most. This may seem strange given my age group, but then again, I pride myself in distancing my thoughts and opinions from the herd mentality, which Facebook, in its very essence, encourages.

Sensationalism does not just sell, but gets far more attention (in the form of Facebook likes and dislikes) than straight, non-melodramatic reporting. A lot of the stuff we read on social media is at best true, and at worst, completely false.

And the Ethiopian government is very vocal when it comes to this nature of social media – they promise that misinformation is worse than no information at all. On that I completely agree! The likes of Hitler and Mussolini got to places of so much power and influence – they were both democratically elected – because they were able to latch on to their countrymen’s worst instincts of fear and hate.

It is easy to scare someone into doing something, but hard enough to get anyone to do anything through rational means. ISIS’s success on social media, for instance, is a fair example. Users that purport to provide news on Facebook, most of them at least, are much less diabolical, but they should try and put more thought into what they write.

It is very correct that the current problems in Ethiopia should not be changed into anything ethnic. Misinformation should be deflected by thorough, straight-forward reporting that is partial to nobody and fair to everybody. The internet – although the only hub of social media – can help reinforce this universally accepted form of media, and Ethiopians, as citizens of this day and age, should reap the rewards.

Last week saw Ethiopia reunited with the 21st century, when internet connections were partially reinstated. I quickly went into my phone and found the type of information I really wanted. The one feature of the internet that makes obvious the limitations of media is that a user has the power of content, which otherwise would be left to the imaginations of an editor or a producer. The media anticipates what people want based on relevance, but could never satisfy individual curiosities. And this is the part of the internet people take for granted at first, and then miss when it disappears.

Countries in the world that have introduced internet to their civilians have enjoyed growth and prosperity at a much faster pace than otherwise could have been possible in a time before the existence of cyberspace. The reason why is obvious – there is more convenience and competition – two things any savvy businessperson looks for in all places, including Ethiopia, and under all situations, even those that burden the country at the moment.

 



By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a Film Critic whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at christian.tesfaye@yahoo.com.

Published on Oct 18,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 859]


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