By Bolaji Akinola
The world is not changing; I think it has changed substantially. The dynamics of family interactions and communication are not what they used to be. More than ever before, Thorstein Veblen’s theory of technological determinism is true holds true in today’s world.
Technological Determinism assumes that people have little or no free will in choosing their means of communication. It suggests that people will naturally embrace the technology imposed on them by the society or one which the society has settled for. The theory explains that media technology shapes how people think, feel and act. It identified the media and technology as the prime movers of social change. If you doubt Veblen, compare how we communicate today with how it used to be two decades ago.
I remember growing up in a house with only one four-legged black and white television set in the living room. The television set was like a wardrobe with two doors and a lock. Many middle class households of the 1980s/1990s can relate to this. Typically, the television will be locked up when your parents are leaving the house in the morning. Locking it up may not be necessary mean much though as stations didn’t beam signals until 4pm. And in the Lagos area, I think you could receive the signals of only five stations – NTA Channel 5, NTA Channel 7, NTA Channel 10, LTV and OGTV. None of them commenced broadcast before 4pm and by 12 midnight, they shut down. As children, the most pleasant signal on TV was the appearance of the colour bars shortly before 4pm. The colour bars were the assurance that the stations would soon commence broadcast of programmes. My siblings and I would stay glued to the colour bars – all black and white though – with the faint mono-sound emanating from the set. We would chat endlessly about what was coming on TV that day. In no time, the national anthem and the pledge would be played. The programming was sparse and the stations were few. We had no option but consume what they dished out. We did not have video games. There was no cable television. There were no mobile phones, smart phones or tablets. There was no internet, so we had to play with ourselves. We talked to each other and did a lot of things together, as family members should. But the times have changed. The world has moved on. In the days of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and the likes, orality was the norm; afterwards came literacy when men tried to convey meanings through writing and other signs and symbols. We are in the days of electracy. Orality and literacy are no longer sufficient. Skills and facility necessary to exploit the full communicative potential of new electronic media such as multimedia, hypermedia, social software, and virtual worlds are now important for survival. These skills and facility will be even more relevant in coming years. Human communication, as we knew it, has taken a beating from electracy. People now live in the virtual world. Family members are in the same room, sitting next to each other but they are really not together; they are virtual miles away. There are multiple flat screen television sets in the house running 24/7 programming, with each family member glued to his own channel. There is no common interest. Each also has a tablet or smartphone handy with which he/she is engages in chatting with people thousands of miles away. Even when people are eating, they are chatting. Talking to each other at home is no longer cool.
Son: Mummy what is the meaning of ….
Mother: Google it.
Daughter: Daddy what is the mathematical formula for …
Father: Search online.
This is the sad reality of our times. The world is breeding a generation of cold-blooded idiots. All over the place, you see smart phones but really dumb people. Family members are all busy looking down on their phones, spending hours together without making eye contact. Many have thousands of friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, yet they are lonely. Technology is the forbidden fruit we’ve all tasted.
The irony is that one day, very soon – sooner than any of us can imagine – even the tablets and smart phones of today will become obsolete and vanish the way beepers and fax machines did before them. The tech giants are already laying the groundwork for the eventual demise of the contraptions we regard today as the ultimate in digital revolution. And when the smartphone dies is when things are going to get really weird for everybody.
I shuddered when I read about the Internet of Things (IoT). With the emergence of IoT, most of our valuable physical objects will have virtual convergence. Our houses, vehicles, smart phones phones, computers, credit cards, bank accounts will all be able to collect and exchange data.
I fear that these advancements in our communicativity will widen the divide between family members, especially parents and children. I shudder at the consequence of this prospect for humanity.