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The world is changing in many ways and sometimes I stop to ask myself where it is running to. There’s a lot going on, all at the same time, all in different places, all with different people. One cannot but pause to imagine how the world worked when people had to travel miles and wait for centuries until they got their messages delivered to the desired recipients, when messages travelled by ship across oceans and by barefoot across forests and rivers and mountains. Communication must have been extremely exhausting then, exhausting and expensive, and then deliberate. Because…

Picture that you had to send a message to your friend in America and it would take several months before that message got to that friend of yours. Now, imagine yourself trying to package that message, how you will fill it with every tiny detail you can think of, how carefully and thoughtfully and deliberately you will write every single word and utilize every single space and the strength it would take you to get yourself out of your house to the nearest post office to get a stamp. Oh yes, and you will do well to pay for that stamp. Now, also imagine how tasking that is and how it means that you will carefully choose who you communicate with because communication at that time was tasking and expensive and you do not have the strength and time and resources to communicate with so many people at the same time. You will have to choose who you will communicate with and whom your silence will greet and embrace.

Now, bring your imagination back to the present, the new media. In comes Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and Mark Zuckerberg and all them juggernauts. Here is the same communication, the same information transmission, now digitized, now accessible, fast, reliable, capable of delivering not just to a single recipient but to multiple recipients. At the same time. At a faster speed. Imagine the speed. And ease.

And so, we now have blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, online newspapers, etcetera etcetera. And so, everyone now has an opinion, a little thought on this, a little thought on that. And so, you can be in your tiny corner and imagine that the world gives an owl’s hoot about you. And so, you can be on your own and people will locate you and you will make “friends” you do not know from anywhere particularly, friends you know in a world that exists beyond the physical (the so-called digital world), who share what they choose to share and who you do not even know something as simple as the address to where their parents live. And you will call them friends. Facebook will say, “Friend request?” and you will click accept.

There’s not a manner of human existence you will not find in this new world. Pretenders, stalkers, witches, wizards, the good and evil alike. You will find all of them where? On the new media. Claiming to be the human beings they are not.

There is no telling that the new media is stealing our privacy.

We are not even going to talk about how this new media takes up a person’s identity and distorts it. We are not going to dwell on this urge to connect, to publicize life that should rather be private, to tell the world that you ate garri and egusi soup for lunch and fried rice and chicken for dinner. There is no telling that the new media is stealing our privacy, our interior lives; this new space, this new life.

But also existing in this world is the greed and hunger and pranks of jobless and opportunistic people, people who trade on information and privacy, whose stock-in-trade is your shame. They could be anyone really. May even be that person you just finished exchanging flirtatious private messages with, or that person whom you think is a friend but not completely certain where the boundaries of that friendship stand. Or perhaps, someone from nowhere who is just about to send you a message that begins with something as simple as a hi.

Here is how the business works: they get something very personal off you, something shameful, and one day, they use it against you (for many reasons: joblessness and hunger inclusive). This business is called “sextortion.” The act of using private or sexually explicit images to blackmail (extort) people. This business is now trending on the new media and making the business moguls rich. The new media makes it possible and the seemingly carefree inhabitants of this new world are vulnerable.

BBC has started a series it calls the BBC Shame Series “which examines a disturbing new phenomenon – the use of private or sexually explicit images to blackmail and shame young people, mainly girls and women, in some of the world’s most conservative societies.” Initiatives like this are important, to enlighten the public, to make people aware. It is important we know.

…we need to transport ourselves back to the time when communication was sacred.

So, what to do? Simple. I must first make it clear that I am not your moral compass. I do not intend to dictate to you what is right or wrong, what is sin or not. Whatever you do in the secrecy of your bedroom is your personal business. But then…the whole point of this long article is to say that we need to transport ourselves back to the time when communication was sacred. Live with the new media but be deliberate. Be very deliberate. Be careful. Choose your words. Choose your friends wisely. Be cautious. Treasure physical presence, physical communication (I mean face-to-face real-time communication) and emotional distance on the media. Anything can happen. Anybody’s privacy can be on the line. Be careful about every single word you utter in this new space. It is important at this time. Nobody is safe.

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This article was first published on 4th November 2016


Munachim Amah is a graduate student of Media and Communication at the Pan-Atlantic University. His writing has appeared on The Kalahari Review, African Writer, Business Day. He is a 2016 alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. He lives in Lagos.

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