We desire to bequeath two things to our children; the first one is roots, the other one is wings.
– Sudanese Proverb
New media, in its various forms and mediums, has proven itself to be one of the most powerful forces influencing our lives in the 21st century. It has made its impact felt in almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives, affecting how we work, have fun, socialize, learn, and interact with the world around us.
One of the major qualities that make it so powerful is its ability to communicate high volumes of richly detailed information to all corners of the globe extremely quickly, accurately, and efficiently. This has made the transmission of thoughts, ideas, and knowledge as simple as the click of a button, making the world, in a very real sense, a whole lot smaller.
This is a good thing though, right?
It most definitely is. New media technology has worked to even out the spread and accessibility of knowledge, which as the Swahili say, is wealth. There’s no denying that.
So what’s the problem?
A good example of new media is apparent in the world of entertainment. We spend huge amounts of time interacting with and immersing ourselves in the worlds created in the video-games, shows, comics and movies we’ve grown to love so much. What we tend to forget at times is the fact that these realities were constructed by people with very different world views.
Simply put, we dive head-first into worlds built with entirely different cultural heritages and societal standards from our own as their framework. It then comes as no surprise to see our younger generations losing touch with their indigenous cultures and identities as they absorb the foreign worldview we so eagerly expose ourselves to. The unfortunate result; a confused social identity that forms one of the many burdens we as Africans have to contend with.
They have a saying in Ethiopia; if you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other. It applies here. We are not saying that our ways are/were better. We simply do not want to be assimilated into a foreign culture with no history of our own to speak of or be proud of, in effect shedding our own identity. We believe that a desirable end goal should be a richly fed culture that celebrates our differences in harmony and mutual appreciation rather than seeking to erase them. We need to remember where we came from so as to know where we should go.
At the end of the day, however, we ourselves must accept the lion’s share of responsibility for the state of things. Our lack of effort in imparting and passing on our cultural heritages and values have left our young minds to be as vulnerable to outside influence as empty vessels – just waiting to be filled – and they are eagerly taking in whatever is to be found.
While we fully understand the value and necessity of a broad mind and openness in today’s world, it is increasingly apparent that there is a real need to ramp up the production of home-grown, local-flavoured content that keeps our heritage alive and vibrant in the hearts and minds of our people. We need to keep rooted in the firm and nourishing soils of our history.
Okay. So what can we do, really?
We’ve seen how much more accessible technology is becoming, which is what drives the powerful influence of new media in our lives. A quick look at some of the projects and initiatives being undertaken throughout the continent such as the telecommunications explosion being experienced continent-wide, the government-initiated laptop project in Kenya, and the Akon-driven solar power initiative, to name just a few, go to show how great a role technology will play in shaping Africa’s future. We are the ones to choose what shape this future will take.
We feel that in order to accomplish this, we as Africans need to increase both the quality and quantity of our contributions to the streams of worldwide media content. As we head ever deeper into the digital age, the responsibility of ensuring Africa’s voice is heard lies entirely upon us, as it should.