One of the greatest inventions of the modern time is the internet whose impact on society has been hugely phenomenal. With the internet, came social networks such as Face book, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagrams just to mention a few. All these collectively are referred to as social media. It is social media that is fast shaping society in the world today.
Now people on social media can reach friends in far away places in an instant. They can have conversations with one another. This is something which was not possible before.
No doubt social media has transformed culture based on the connections people make with one another and the intensity of information they are exposed to.
In this social transformation, Malawi’s youth are not spared. They are a larger section of society caught in the wind of this cultural revolution.
The youth’s obsession with social media is intensely more pronounced just as their own identities as a people.
According to a book by Dana Boyd titled Youth and Culture Technology, “there are tropes about identity” social media because “society has failed young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers ability to become informed, thoughtful and engaged citizens through their online interaction.”
For searching their own identity, perhaps the youth are now passionately engrossed with social media. In minibuses or buses, they can be seen on WhatsApp or Face book, interacting with friends. Even when they are in churches, they always find their way to be on WhatsApp.
It simply appears that social media networks are a tool that has enabled the youth to transform some cultural and societal values.
What is visible about the youth communicating through social media is the new lifestyles they have acquired from such networks.
Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe, a psychologist from the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine and the Polytechnic, says social media has ushered in a new culture into society.
“This is a new culture as people share things that are sensitive more freely than before. For example, when there is an accident, people rush to take pictures instead of lending a helping hand to the victim. In the past this would not happen,” he observes.
On why many youth are resorting to using social media, the psychologist says that youth have accepted social media because of the social network that has connected them. The youth have a similar way of thinking and they find interacting with one another interesting.
“Again social media is a source of information to the youth. Where they cannot get information from the elderly or their parents, they have turned to the social media,” he says.
However, the greatest motivation for the youth for their obsession with social media is the natural instinct to be affirmed by others.
“Youth are people who interpret their worth from the perspective of others. When they post something, they want people to ‘like’ it. Liking the clothes or the way you look motivates them. In this way they feel accepted,” says Bandawe.
The youth are challenging the way society used to behave. Now people are noticing even the smallest of details about others. Things that people post on social media immediately influence someone’s way of thinking.
Bandawe explains that social media has also helped to erode some moral values from some youth but at the same time, helped transform the lives of others academically, socially and at the work place.
He says: “There are over 400 million people on social media world-wide. Some youth in Malawi are addicted. These people spend more time on social media and are counter-productive. Others are taken up by social media, even at work. Instead of working, they spend their time social networking. If social media is used with discipline, one can learn a lot from it.”
Last week, Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya also expressed his concerns on youth obsession with social media.
Speaking during the opening of the first session of the second cohort of Youth Parliament of Malawi (YPM) currently underway in Lilongwe Msowoya called on the youth in the country to use social media as a tool for development instead of wasting time castigating others and chatting.
“Young people spend a lot of time on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media, lamenting our nation’s problems and castigating our leaders, instead of using the same to aid development. It is high time we used the social media for positive [development] of our country,” he said.
Msowoya is right. These days homes are no longer what they used to be. The youth, clutching their gadgets, throw themselves on the sofa, busy twitting or whatsapping or facebooking. Even when a visitor from the village comes to visit people in town, the youth are indifferent; choosing to chat with friends on social media instead of listening to stories from the village. They term village stories boring.
“Youth’s obsession with social media is even affecting their quality of education. Some students are always chatting with friends on social networks even when they are in class. Instead of listening to a lecture, the youth get absorbed in playing with one another on social media, says Bandawe.