It is 2014 and the only thing that human beings seem not to lack at all is information. Thanks to the internet explosion, we now have so much information at our hands that it is no longer such a cool thing in some ways.
I call it the internet explosion because the way we ‘consume’ the internet is not the same anymore.
During my first encounters with the internet, one had to go to an internet café, pay some money, call the attendant to unlock the computer and then you log on to your favourite sites which by then were simply Yahoo mail, Hi5, and the Daily Monitor website which was one of the first news sites in the region and it came complete with a chat room.
Today some children do not even know what an internet or cyber café is. They know that the internet is first and foremost available on mobile phones. It is even becoming banal to call a phone a smart phone since almost everyone carries one these days. It is also expected that with such a phone one is expected to be using a mail service, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and of course Google is always there to answer any queries.
It is this Tsunami of information that has made us less social and addicted to consuming small bits of information at astoundingly high speeds. I used to think the guys who watch stock market figures on numerous computers were crazy but I now feel like them when I find myself staring at a multi-columned Tweet deck app on my computer screen. As we consume information this way, little room is left for verification or even mere reflection of what we are consuming. Social media has only accelerated this process. It is because of this that Twitter has become the one place where people die before are actually dead. Nelson Mandela died several times before it actually happened.
Jackie Chan has also been announced dead so many times he may have to make a movie out of it. On Friday, even President Paul Kagame found himself on this list of people who are ‘killed’ by social media but continue to live in real life. His case was even more dramatic in that it sparked off a mini carnival in Goma, DRC.
I actually spent most of my Friday feeling like a government or presidential spokesperson. Not with the numerous messages from people in Rwanda and outside who were asking me, “is it true that Kagame is dead?” Even the pictures of the man himself meeting university students did not seem enough to convince the doubting Thomases.
On the brighter side, my old folks always say that if one is wrongly announced dead they tend to live much longer. It happened to my grandmother who later went on to live to the age of 95.
Away from the rumour mill, Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who has been in a coma for a whole eight years was announced dead. Sharon will be missed and not missed almost in equal measure depending on which side of the infamous Israeli wall one is physically or emotionally.
Across the border in Uganda, a renowned comedian Paddy ‘Bitama’ Ssali who had also been announced dead before it really happened eventually passed away on Saturday afternoon. Paddy Bitama was one of the founder members of the comedy group, Amarula Family, which is often credited for the now robust comedy industry in Uganda.
It was never easy to know when he was acting or being serious like the time he insisted on being registered as a presidential candidate in 2006. “Being a comedian doesn’t mean I don’t have a vision for this country,” he once sad. Indeed by the time of his death he had become more of a politician than a comedian.
As for those who are fond of falling for all sorts of internet hoaxes especially about the death of important people, can we please learn to verify information before spreading it? Instead of retweeting a rumour why not check with more reliable news sources and asking people on the ground first.
There are also lots of parody accounts and satire news sites that we should not confuse with real news sites. Can we all try to be a little smarter this year?