At a teachers’ seminar that I recently attended, one tutor confessed how his daughter had turned into a social media slave after he bought her a smartphone. And it all began when she finished form four last month. The first thing she would do after breakfast was to open several chat windows on various social media and converse the whole day. She would also chat into the night, sleeping as late as three o’clock in the morning and doing her duties erratically the whole day. The only time she would keep her phone down was when the charge or credit, or both, would be over. When she began wearing mobile phone headphones to catch in on the latest information, nay music from shared videos, this teacher read the ominous “do not disturb” sign on his daughter and intervened. After several days of counseling, the girl finally kicked off the habit and brought back some balance in her life.
The deluge of information bombarding young people nowadays can only be comparable to a war. And this information is in the form of the flood of updates in the social media like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Myspace and Twitter and the ubiquitous email, audio and video and text messages on mobile electronic devices. Television, with sleek channels that cater exclusively to youthful music tastes and some of which are accessed on the free to air menu, is taking its toll too.
Whereas technology is supposed to free us from the shackles of having to work the way that we used to do, instead it has enslaved many young people. Not that the adults are faring any better. Some young people are daily held hostages by the tomes of information in the various devices that they have to catch up with at the expense of doing any real work. In fact if a youth fails to accomplish any task given to him or her at home or at a temporary job that they could be working, chances are that the mobile phone, television set or computer, in that order, took all his or her time. Some of them have become addicts who may need counseling to come out of the habit. But often personal discipline can go a long way in keeping the lure of the social media and television under control if they practice it.
The most effective way of keeping one’s sanity from the immense information bombarding us is by prioritisation on what to entertain or not. Every youth must have clear work goals every day because without focus one quickly loses his or her way and gets consumed by the information monster. One must set aside some time, preferably over the lunch hour or in the evening, for chatting with their social media friends. Another social hour can be created, say, before retiring to bed or early in the morning. The intervening periods of time should strictly be devoted to the real issues in the real world away from the vast virtual asylum and television where everything is only fleeting and superficial.
All youth with a mobile phone or a laptop computer should start their day by visualising what they want to attain by the day’s end. They should also conceptualise all likely distractions, key among them unscheduled visits to social media, and rise above the temptations of unnecessary chatting at the expense of real work. Witness the many form four leavers walking around with earplugs as they listen to music or watch videos via mobile phones and other portable devices. When holding these electronic gadgets in their hands, many of these otherwise well-mannered youths lose all sense of courtesy and even direction and can be knocked down by vehicles. Certainly, they make poor team players with such an attitude in any workplace.
Our youth may be tempted into thinking that having every piece of information or reacting to every update in their networks will make them better people but this is not the case. The best safeguard from becoming junkies is to simply switch off their electronic devices and computers until they are through with whatever task they have set their minds on. If need be, this can be several days! Didn’t our KCSE graduates survive in school for four years without a mobile phone? In deed, some behavioral counsellors insist that the youth need to take time off from the social media and internet and phones to be creative. When people switch off from the information attack, their creativity levels go up and as they are able to synthesise and analyse all the information that has been bombarding them. The present living on the fast lane where our youth are connected virtually at all times leaves no room for introspection and meditation, key elements in unleashing creativity. At the end of the day, it is not the information that you receive that will help you to achieve your life and career goals but rather how you choose to use that information. And parents’ role is crucial here in instilling and supervising rules on discretion and balance when visiting social media and watching television. Their parenting role is far from over; the most trying phase that needs the greatest tact and patience has just begun.
Kariuki teaches at Nyandarua high school, Ol Kalou.