By Olusegun Adeniyi
Yesterday, the Taiwo Obe-led “EverythingJournalism” group, a cyber hangout for serious media professionals and consumers of media messages, in association with its adjunct, “The Journalism Clinic”, organised a “Summit on Functional Social Networking” in Abuja.
Targeted at journalists, bloggers, students of journalism/mass communication as well as media executives and everyone concerned about the future of journalism in Nigeria, especially in the context of the internet, there were several people in attendance. The audience was not just attentive but also very engaging in what turned out to be an interesting conversation about journalism in our country, in the digital age.
Moderated by respected veteran journalist, Mr. Richard Ikiebe and with tested industry hands like Dapo Olorunyomi, Lekan Otufodurin and Azubuike Ishiekwene as speakers, I was also invited to come and share with the audience why I am not active on the social media circuit. Since this is a question many readers have also been asking me for years, I believe my brief remark at yesterday’s session, albeit slightly edited, addresses the issue:
Every day, I receive hundreds of emails with headlines like the following:
“Lawrence Anini would like to connect with you on LinkedIn”
“Sani Abacha has invited you to join Facebook”
“Do you know that Malabu Oil deal, Osama Bin Laden and 99 others are also on Twitter?”
When I got an invitation to speak this morning on why I am a social media alien, it occurred to me that all the people who have tried unsuccessfully to ‘friend’ me have finally decided on their revenge. From Myspace to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to LinkedIn to Badoo and the others, if you find an Olusegun Adeniyi, it is not me because I have never been on any social media platform. Never!
Many have asked me why and I usually shrug such question away but I will explain in a few words this morning.
I am happy Yemi Adamolekun (the brilliant young lady who runs ‘Enough is Enough Nigeria’) is here as she will remember that at a recent event where I spoke, I made allusion to why I don’t belong to the Twitter generation as I take comfort in the words of Leha Elisabeth that with user-generated content platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., people can easily get caught up in cultivating their own image that at the end of the day we stand the risk of surrendering our future to “a generation where everyone acts like the star of their own reality show.”
However, that really does not explain why I stay away from social media which I must admit has become a potent tool in the age of information. There are two reasons why I am out. The first one is general while the second is specific. As to the general one, it all started from a realization that I was spending considerable time reading and replying emails and text messages. So I saw no point in further complicating my life. I have always believed that if anybody needed to reach me, he would get my email (which is readily available for readers of THISDAY newspaper) and send me a direct mail to which I would reply and I am very good at that.
Now to the specific: I saw very early the pitfalls in engaging people you may not even know in virtual discussions.
As far back as year 2001, because my email address was on my backpage column in THISDAY, I began to receive several group mails. There was hardly any listserv cobbled together by Nigerians of my generation that would not include my email address. And even when I rarely participated in their discussions, I followed most of the threads.
Today, I receive no fewer than a thousand mails everyday most of them as a result of these groups and several cross-postings. And my email address is on virtually all the blogs created by Nigerians in the Diaspora. So every morning my first assignment is usually to delete these ‘junk’ mails and it has become an enjoyable routine. I even get to read most of what people post of their Facebook pages because some ‘friends’ have also made it their business to cut and paste such things, so in a way I operate on the margin of social media.
But right from year 2001, I saw the danger in virtual friendship from what transpired on some of these listserv. Many of these internet friends would begin by eulogizing one another, just on account of some posts on which they agree until a day when someone writes something they do not agree with. The disagreement could even begin in an innocent manner but one word out of turn and it would degenerate into serious verbal wars and hate speeches, sometimes even threats of violence. On most of these Nigerian listserv, especially by those in the Diaspora, the discussion often begins with a mundane issue, then the names of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello are thrown into the mix and before you know it, they would begin to exchange abuses and curses!
It was about this time that Facebook was launched and then the Paris Hilton of this world started telling us what they ate for breakfast, where they went in the afternoon and who they were sleeping with at night. And I asked myself: why should that be my business? I saw what people were doing on Facebook, and I decided I was not going to join. And I never did. But since then there have been several other platforms that have left me behind. I bet readers will ask how I survived as a presidential spokesman without being on the social media. I was clever enough to surround myself with brilliant professionals who were active on the social media: Bolaji Adebiyi, Ken Wiwa (Jnr) and Yakubu Musa.
For sure, the social media is good and because of the pressure from several friends, I have been tempted to join Twitter. I have been considering the offer in the last six months and will decide one way or another before the end of the year! But then, my brother, Garba Shehu, former president of the Guild of Editors, says I am only living in denial given that people can, and do read, my columns on social media platforms.
I have been told a million times that as a writer, I cannot do without social media and while I concede that I may be denying myself the opportunity for more readership (or to deploy the appropriate term, followership), I also know that I do not have the temperament to be explaining why I wrote certain things to people who may already have their own prejudices. Once I write my column based on my convictions and understanding of issues, I don’t look back and I don’t even read the comments posted below anything I write. Those who have issues with my position would write me directly and I do receive several of such mails every day. Some of them I reply. But I have no business with those who judge others by their own standards and our country is replete with many of them.
By way of conclusion, while I usually consider myself odd, maybe even local, for turning my back on social media in an age in which every vulcanizer and bricklayer in town is on Facebook, Instagram and the likes, I am comforted by the fact that there are also millions of people like me, including celebrities who are also not on any social media platform. I have selected what an international supermodel and two movie superstars said to justify to myself that I may not be too odd afterall.
Kate Moss: “Now, with Instagram and everything, everyone’s so on their phones that even when I’m in a restaurant someone will come up and ask to get a picture with me. I’m like ‘No’. There are no boundaries anymore.”
Scarlett Johansson: “I don’t know how I feel about this idea of, ‘Now, I’m eating dinner, and I want everyone to know that I’m having dinner at this time,’ or, ‘I just mailed a letter and dropped off my kids.’”
Jennifer Aniston: “I’m really computer illiterate. When I see people on their BlackBerrys, working them like some girls work a hairdryer, I’m just stunned.”
For me, these are good companies as I continue in my blissful ignorance. Interestingly, I was invited to the school of my ten-year old son recently to speak to his Class (Primary Six) on “The Essence of Social Media”, probably because the organisers did not do their homework well to know I don’t belong. I went nonetheless and really enjoyed interacting with the smart kids.
In the course of my interaction with them, I asked if anyone was on social media and the hands of half the class were up, including that of my son. I asked him which platforms he was on and he said Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp. Now wait for this: He said he has 21 followers on Twitter! We are talking of a ten-year-old boy. Is that not crazy?
Now, let me conclude with a joke that depicts the reality of the present generation. It is about raising a family in cyberspace based on a conversation between a girl and her daddy:
Girl: “Dad, I’m in love with a boy who is far away from me. I am in UK and he lives in Nigeria. We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, had long chats on Whatsapp, he proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two months of relationship through Viber. I need your blessings and good wishes daddy.”
Dad: “Wow! You have my blessing to get married on Twitter, and I believe you can have fun on Tango. You can even buy your kids on E-bay and send them to school through Gmail. And if you are fed up with your children and husband, you have the option of selling them on Amazon!”
While the social media remains a very interesting world for the initiated, I am not yet ready to belong to that world.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olusegun Adeniyi/Thisday