I first learnt about “snapchat” when I was reading the story of its 23-year-old co-founder, Evan Spiegel. I was intrigued at how he reportedly rejected US$3bn cash, offered by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to buy his app, convinced it was worth much more. The move paid off! As it happens, Spiegel is one of the wealthiest men in the world today, at 25, and his app is valued at a much higher price than the Facebook CEO offered to buy it.
So, last week, when my teenage cousin requested my phone charger, and I asked her why her battery had run down so quickly, she explained that she had been “snap chatting” with her friends and with all the enthusiasm of a teenager, showed me how the app works.
According to Forbes, as of 2014, snapchat is estimated to be used by about 50 million people. The number of users has grown astronomically since then.
Every day, an IT savvy 20-something-year-old computer geek is hard at work somewhere at Silicon Valley, conjuring up computer programmes, aimed at connecting an already over-connected world in ways only those who see the future can imagine.
The devil probably had a good time laughing, because the programmes branded as “bad” and the object vilified as his box were infinitely tamer compared with what would come to exist in the future. He knew this, but man had no idea!
In today’s world, the new devil’s box is not actually a box. It is a string of unseen web that connects the world in inconceivable ways shrinking it into one small village. It is the Internet.
It is almost impossible to imagine what the world was before the emergence of the Internet. How did man cope without this vital tool of existence?
While, there is no mistaking the influence and changes the Internet will bring, even the inventors of the Internet could not have in their wildest imagination conceived how the Internet would affect the world as it has today.
The Internet was originally created for a functional purpose. In today’s world however, it is used for all kinds of activities from the mundane to the most incredulous. Even as the Internet can be a force for good if properly utilised, it can also be man’s greatest undoing. The proliferation of websites and applications that enable users to create and share contents, and participate in social networking has made the Internet the busiest sphere in this era.
The children and young people in this age are growing up under completely different circumstances. Technology has evolved in the most unthinkable ways, providing a lifestyle that is at complete variance with what existed a few decades ago. As a result of this, we live in an age of short attention span and loads of distraction because we are often bombarded with loads of information we can do without.
The people most affected by this whole new world are the children, teenagers and young adults. Think of it, some 12 years ago, there was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snap chat. In our world today, the social media platforms, mobile apps and sharing devices are innumerable, while the Internet is much more accessible and affordable.
A secondary school student in Nigeria today, with as low as a N100 can purchase an Internet data bundle for a day, giving them unrestrained access to music, videos, blogs and every other distraction the Internet offers.
To be sure, the accessibility and affordability of Internet data plan are a sign of growth, however the distractions it brings, particularly to children and teenagers are not.
The effects of this on our world are far-reaching and numerous and cannot be fully articulated in this write-up. It will however suffice to say that people spend more time fingering the buttons on their phones and devices than they spend communicating and connecting with actual human beings.
Also, in this era of self-publicity, selfies, and the strange urge to constantly put our lives in the faces of others, we are regularly inundated with intentionally constructed updates and deliberately altered pictures, aimed at projecting success, happiness and beauty. This sort of self-promotion engenders feelings of underachievement, discontentment, envy and depression, as people unfairly compare their lives with the ostensible success of others.
Additionally and perhaps most importantly, the Internet if not effectively utilised takes away our most valuable asset -“time”- and gives nothing in return. It is very easy to get carried away watching videos or reading gossip blogs online. Years of productive activities would be lost to completely fruitless exercise. It is for this singular reason, that the Internet is the ultimate devil’s box. People need to realise that time is currency, and whatever you spend your time on is what you have bought.
There are two categories of people who use the Internet, the users and the victims.
The users regard the Internet as a tool to achieve a set objective. Some of the people in this class include those smart kids at Silicon Valley who invent all manner of apps/computer programmes and become billionaires overnight. Top business executives who use various apps and resources available online to bring some order to their chaotic and busy lives. Young people who have turned blogging into a million naira business, unemployed youths who earn a source of income for themselves by selling stuff online, or promoting their businesses or skills via their social media pages, and people who use the Internet to promote good causes.
These people are users of the Internet, because they use the platform it provides to enrich their lives and better their communities.
The victims on the other hand, spend a lot of time surfing the Internet aimlessly, visiting gossip sites, checking out fashion trends, Facebook posts, football videos, wedding pictures, pinging and being pinged, taking and uploading pictures by the minute. This class of people constantly follow celebrities on Twitter, tweeting and re-tweeting information “that does not affect the price of garri in the market” and consider it a mark of achievement, once the number of their Twitter followers increases. Unfortunately, a large proportion of us fall into this category.
We need to honestly evaluate our lives to determine whether we are Users or Victims of the Internet, as the Internet was made for man and not man for the Internet.
The reality is that, there are lots of good things online, articles, business ideas and general information that can benefit ones’ life, yet one cannot access all the information however useful. An attempt to read all the interesting and good stuff that catches our fancy would result in wasting quality time in a futile exercise. Hence, there is a need to discern between information that is good, and information that is good and necessary.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong in visiting our favourite blogs and sites or watching and re-watching interesting videos or even following our celebrity crush on Twitter, so long as it is done moderately and does not eat into our productive hours. Indeed, the Internet and all its attendant benefits are some of the simple pleasures of living in this age.
The Internet is the ultimate devil’s box and the distractions are going to get worse. In order to fully enjoy the benefits it provides and maximise the opportunities it presents, we must first learn to discipline ourselves and teach our children and teenagers to use it productively and creatively.
A fast way of learning such discipline is to regulate access to the Internet by realigning our data plan with periods for effective and productive tasks. A more radical approach would be to completely desist from subscribing to any data plan on your mobile device for a while, that way you can be sure that the only time you get access to the Internet is when you turn on your computers or tabs to do some proper meaningful work.