The many faces of social media:
The temporary hike of mobile data tariffs this week, reversed smartly on Thursday, was met with a consolidated outcry by social media users across the country about to be charged more for gossip.
THERE was a great sigh of relief on Thursday when Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira announced a suspension of the tariff hikes. More jokes about the issue made rounds. This time the people were laughing with relief, not for relief.
The outcry just showed how much Zimbabweans have embraced the growth of technology. Internet access has become a part of life, especially in urban communities.
People across social divides require the internet for several professional and personal reasons.
However, what was conspicuous in the outcry over tariff hikes were the flames ignited by social media users. The majority of arguments and jokes indicated that most people were worried about impending limited access to their social media platforms.
Although most companies now use social media for marketing, it was apparent that most protesters were worried about access to their platforms of social interaction.
It enhanced common phenomenon about people seeking internet access more for social and personal reasons than professional obligations.
It is a widely-known fact that social media have become platforms of socialisation to an extent that has threatened the physical family interaction.
New families have emerged on social media groups. Biological families have also created groups to enhance their communication in the face of constraints of location distances between family members.
Workmates, church mates, neighbours, schoolmates, families and many other social groups are now comfortable in the social media zone that has changed a lot about the way people interact.
WhatsApp, Facebook, instagram and twitter have become sources of interactions as well as fast means of communicating.
Social media has created “cyber-families” and it is apparent that these platforms are more powerful than physical communication.
Social media users that spoke to this publication said the platforms were important aspects of their lifestyles.
“I am now used to social media. I cannot live without it and I was not happy when the tariff hikes were announced. I was so relieved when the government suspended the hikes. Besides doing business on social media, I get to interact with family and friends. I am a member of many groups and I am part of the social media family,” said Innocent Chakari of Highfield.
Another social media user, Sherlen Kunzwana said, he does not use social media for professional reasons, but it keeps her close to her family and friends.
“These days are different from the previous years when people had to take many days to communicate. Now we can communicate instantly with friends and relatives from any part of the world. That communication is basic and important. I was so disappointed when the tariffs were hiked because I felt plucked from my social relations. I am now happy the old tariffs are back,” she said.
David Tandi from Avondale said discussing social issues on social media kept him abreast with the society around him. He said he has met new friends and enhanced relations that he already has. However, he bemoaned abuse of social media by some people that promote hate language.
“It is all good when we make friends and talk good things with our relatives but it is worrying when people use the platforms to attack each other.
“I believe there should be some form of regulation but I think such platforms should always be accessible at affordable rates. Who can live without new technology these days? It is part of life and restrictions are not welcome,” said Tandi.
Charity Moyo who runs a shop in the city centre said the only disadvantages of social media is the way families have been broken through the platforms.
“Every day we read in the papers about leaked WhatsApp conversations of infidelity and leaked nude pictures. People abuse social media to do all sorts of things yet these platforms should be put to good use.
“Families and friends now live separately due to relocations and such platforms make it easy to communicate. I am happy the government has protected us from greedy mobile companies that want to milk subscribers,” said Moyo.
Tarisai Chizema who works for a local travel agent is of the view that social media can disrupt productivity in various sectors, especially at the workplace.
“Social media is good when used for good things and bad when used for bad things.
“I have visited many workplaces were you find people spending much of their time on social media. I see it as a habit that hampers productivity. Even maids and gardeners that we leave at home may fail to deliver as expected because of social media. I love the platforms though. They keep us connected,” she said.
On the other hand traditionalists argue that the practice is killing important physical interaction, especially in family set-ups.
Traditionalists might have a point in regards to the harm that social media has on families. The young people spend more time interacting with friends on social media and ignore family interactions.
According to a research by psychologist Dr Jim Taylor, new technology offers children independence from their parents’ involvement in their social lives, with the use of mobile phones, instant messaging, and social networking sites.
“Of course, children see this techno- logical divide between themselves and their parents as freedom from over-involvement and intrusion on the part of their parents in their lives. Parents, in turn, see it as a loss of connection to their children and an inability to maintain reasonable oversight, for the sake of safety and over-all health, of their children’s lives,” notes Dr Taylor.
At the same time, perhaps a bit cynically, children’s time-consuming immersion in technology may also mean that parents don’t have to bother with entertaining their children, leaving them more time to themselves.
“Children’s absorption in technology, from texting to playing video games, does by their very nature limit their availability to communicate with their parents.”
One study found that when the working parent arrived home after work, his or her children were so immersed in technology that the parent was greeted only 30 percent of the time and was totally ignored 50 percent of the time.
Another study reported that family time was not affected when technology was used for school, but did hurt family communications when used for social reasons.
Interestingly, children who spent considerable time on a popular social networking site indicated that they felt less supported by their parents.