My World

May 30, 2020

Life in a virtual world

Life in a virtual world

By Muyiwa Adetiba

The world I grew up in must be totally incomprehensible to the children of today. But it was the world we knew then. I grew up in a community setting where peers grouped naturally and respect for the groups ahead of you came so easily and naturally that nobody had to force it.

The age-grade that was to fetch water knew its chore; the age-grade that was to sweep the compound knew its chore; so did the one that went to the farm. There were overlaps of course but they were more of an exception than the norm. When it was time to hang out, you knew where to go and who to go with.

You also knew, to a large extent, the limits of your freedom. Play was largely outdoor; either in the compound, on the field, or on the streets. In fact, life outside bed and devotion times, was largely outdoor.

Mothers were everywhere and any child could be disciplined and sent on an errand by any of them. It was left to parents in each household to set bylaws for their children – where to visit, where to accept food,when to come home to roost and stuff.

Very few of my children’s generation met any of these. It was inconceivable for them to drink water right from the tap without first boiling it; not to talk of drinking rainwater or stream water. Many don’t know how yam is planted; or tomato or even maize.

Play for them was largely indoor; reading comics, watching TV and listening to music from vinyl, cassette, and radio stations whereas music for us was what we heard from church, from itinerant musicians and from the Rediffusion – that little box that hung in the corner of most sitting rooms and which meant everything to us.

It is now even worse for their own children. If their generation grew up largely in the digital world, the generation of their children is growing up in the virtual world.

The virtual world has been creeping on us for quite some time with old, stubborn people like me who belong to the analogue world being the last to take any virtual step. The virtual world is a world ruled by the internet, once a personal indulgence but now so fundamental to living.

It is a world ruled by data. It is a world that will be ruled ultimately by Big Brother. It is very convenient to shop online and not worry about where to park. It is very convenient to make financial transactions at the touch of some numbers on your phone – in fact the next big step which some people are resisting, is to abolish paper currency as we know it.

It is very convenient to order your favourite food at the touch of a button, and watch great movies in the comfort of your home – it is fashionable now for the affluent to have a film room equipped with a large screen TV and cosy furniture. Or listen to your favourite authors while going for a walk or working out at the gym.

The big C now ravaging the world has made social distancing imperative which in turn has accelerated the advancement of the virtual world. Now, it is convenient to work from home (WFH) and save the hassles and the hours of commuting to work everyday.

Or go to church in order to worship and receive communion – we can now receive communion spiritually. The real sensation in town is now Zoom. With Zoom, you can hold meetings with people from different parts of the world without leaving the comfort of your home. Trust Nigerians to take it a nudge higher. We now call Aso-ebi (social uniform) for engagement, wedding and burial functions –functions that will be held through Zoom!

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The virtual world is a world you think you control but which actually controls you. The simple reason is that every online involvement exposes and makes you vulnerable in a way because the internet never forgets.

These data can be accessed and controlled by Big Brother however defined, to be used for or against you. In order words, the cyber space watches, tracks, stores and can reveal. In addition to the loss of privacy is also the loss of the human touch. Many great friendships or even great loves have been found through personal interactions.

Nothing puts this more succinctly than the story of an old man and his daughter. As the story goes, the old man who lives in the country side, gets a visit from his city-dwelling daughter. She watches as her father gets dressed to go out for his almost daily rounds – to the post office, the bank, the grocery store.

Occasionally, he visits the flower shop and goes to the pup for a small drink. The next day, she calls her father and says ‘Dad, you know you don’t have to go out for any of these transactions. You can do all of them in the comfort of your home on this’ she holds out her phone.

The father looks at her and says ‘will this’ pointing to the phone ‘also visit me when I am sick’? Each time I go out, I get to see my neighbours and share some gossip, I get to see people on my street and ask after their families while they ask after mine. The managers of the places I go to banter and flirt with me.

The pup I visit is more for the company of old friends than for the drink. I’d be a lonely old man without these people’. This message is poignant for those who wish to look at old age.

I suspect the generation of my great grandchildren will turn its back on the virtual world at some point in the search for more privacy and the need to escape from the snooping eyes of Big Brother. They might also long for what their parents thought was inconvenient – a deepening of personal relationships. I would not be surprised if good old letter writing came back in their time.

Happy Children’s Day albeit belatedly, to the children who are going to run the next world. May you shape a better world for your successors than your predecessors had done for you.