Our poor reading culture robs us of opportunities and creates social media mayhem

Raymond Mugisha

What you need to know:

  • While the use of internet for career and commerce is a more specific focus, it closely relates to the use of internet for knowledge acquisition, or the use of available self study resources that are plentiful on internet.

Internet usage statistics for Africa indicate that majority of users utilize it for social and entertainment purposes, mainly for staying in touch with family and friends. This accounts for 85 percent of internet usage across majority of the continent. The search for information and news about politics takes 53 percent of our internet use while exploring information about government services accounts of 51 of usage.

Using internet for the above purposes is not wrong. However a look at other purposes for which internet is put to use in our society points to a likely fault. Utilization of internet for career and commerce takes a median of 26 per cent of the internet users. If the activity of making and receiving payments is excluded, the median population of internet users focusing on career and commerce declines to a dismal 19 per cent. These statistics are in a Spring 2017 Global Attitudes Survey Report.

There is no need to tell the correlation between our major uses of the internet and the challenges we are getting around social media usage that threaten social order and heighten sociopolitical contentions in our society. Some countries on the African continent have as a result taken steps to regulate social media use.

While the use of internet for career and commerce is a more specific focus, it closely relates to the use of internet for knowledge acquisition, or the use of available self study resources that are plentiful on internet. Utilizing internet for the search of knowledge must therefore be similarly so low in our societies, leaving so much time for only social engagement and other uses that may not add so much value to the population, as well as for internet use in less pleasant ways that may contribute to the fracturing of society. Countries that are taking steps to regulate social media are reacting to this unfortunate reality.

However, there are more effective ways of shaping social media discourse. They may not offer instant results but they will progressively lessen the problem of social media distastefulness going into the future. These methods must seek to divert internet usage, as a whole, to more knowledge building than social media chatter.

Africa suffers a very poor reading culture. The continent thus has a weak base for socio-cultural wellbeing of society, in this regard. Reading reinforces community connectedness and enhances the outcomes and general performance of populations. Research has indicated that reading culture is vital for boosting human generative powers of thinking for new innovations and development of personal talents and natural endowments. It helps people to understand themselves and others as well as to contextualize their environment, for their advantage. Further research has also indicated that the benefits of reading are not confined to schooling. The benefits are for one’s entire life. A society’s reading culture is crucial for the development of human capital and its overall social transformation.

As such, it is implied that an acute lapse in reading culture is hurtful in many ways, and can contribute to social disunity. It can create disharmony within society since the people are unable to understand themselves or their neighbors and the general world they live in.

In traditional Africa, younger generations would acquire a lot of knowledge passed on orally by elders. In most African cultures, families congregated around bonfires and older people communicated to the younger ones about vast topics. Traditions and culture were passed on in this manner, as was the knowledge about how people in other communities conducted themselves. The elders would have had the benefit of wider interaction with people from different cultures through trade, marriage, war and other ways.

As a result, while there may not have been reading as we know it today, there was a reliable substitute for it. Today, this social system no longer exists. Without a good reading culture, the young are somewhat ignorant even when they have had exposure through formal school. The situation is made worse by the fact that schools focus their students on passing exams. The reading done in school is thus confined to the core target of attaining good grades in exams. Under this scenario, students can only read narrowly and shallowly. Someone could get the best grades by simply revising examination questions from exam papers. They may have no motivation to read extensively. From such, we have people through school, literate, but yet socially incomplete. Their love for reading is not formed. Rigorous and purposeful reading has little room in such society. We miss out the value of meaningful reading and slide into the less beneficial temptations of social media where no serious concentration is required on the most part. Our internet usage statistics tell it. Our youths thus get trapped and our society grapples with the challenge of uncontrollable trends on available social media platforms.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant

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