I spend lots of time in the world, or shall I say, in the company, of books. It is, for me, an honest and dependable companion. As someone has noted, “it is better to be alone than to be in bad company.”I have to agree that there is, indeed, lots of bad company around. The following anonymous quote further underlines my interest in the printed page. It says, “between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be.”
Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was rather easy to define media and their roles to a great extent. The media educated, informed and entertained. Credible, responsible, and a builder. But over time, and particularly today, both the definition and roles of the media have undergone tremendous changes. It concerns me that we have not yet seen the last of the changes. I find it interesting and foreboding that one of the trending phrases in 2016 is “fake news.” What does it mean; what are the implications for those who may not be able to identify the “false news?” What happens to communities without the capacity to fight back at the “fake news?”
When I grew up, I used to look for my father’s one daily newspaper, a huge broadsheet, that I could read in stages. Besides that, I always tried to ensure that the radio-gram as it was called was working. At school, my classmates and I enjoyed weekly doses of radio lessons provided by the Curriculum Development Unit. Later, black and white television, which carried a limited range of programme channels came into our world.
The most worrying programmes carried age restrictions of “not suitable for under 16.” Believe you me, I did not try to find out what the programmes which were rated thus contained. My young brother and I could not contain our laughter when recalling the guilt we felt after stealthily watching a “not-for-under-13” programme. We would go through a cleansing ritual in order to remove, delete, and completely obliterate residual images from the films we had seen. Yet these were standard family viewing. Nothing compared to some risqué cartoon shows on television today. I simply cannot trust a programme rated 13 to be family viewing today. It seems the censorship board is either tired of playing its gatekeeping role. Or, is it an ominous acknowledgement that it is futile to insist on censorship in the light of the many, alternative sources of viewing? Radio is not any different; once radio presenters apologized for “the slightest inappropriate” words that sneaked into a song. Nowadays, a song is heavy, successful and “so-called dope” if its lyrics contain a few expletives.
Health experts, religious and lifestyle leaders talk about “detoxing” dirty content from the mind and body. Now, as in the past, our biggest challenge is that we keep falling into the same snares or traps of the programmes we do not want to see. It is a shortcoming that afflicts us without end. You see, the biggest problem is that the undesirable programmes are the addictive ones and the very foundation of talking points which prove that one is “current and with it!” They represent an element of belonging. Indeed, I find it illustrative that certain so-called mighty preachers sound current in their viewing of the seemingly repulsive material. Yet ordinary worshippers, the laity, are given stern warnings against succumbing to the temptation. On many Mondays, these films are conversation starters, whether at school or the work place. If one misses weekend viewing, Monday is sure to be a big yawn.
Looking back at how technology has impacted the world, I chortle when I recall that some years after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, an international electronics company established a presence in Harare. The company reported that it would be manufacturing “monochrome” television sets. I vividly remember that one reporter misunderstood this as “the arrival of colour television!” You could understand the reporter; after all, the country had been watching black and white television sets. What was “monochrome?” You could extend it further and ask how a reputable electronics giant could come into Harare for “black and white” television monitors again. Yet, when I looked up monochrome – (and I believe many other viewers did too) – it does in fact refer to black and white!
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines monochrome as “a painting, drawing or photograph in a single hue, that is showing images in black and white, or in varying tones of one colour.” I am intrigued to discover that Britain’s Independent newspaper reported on December 28, 2015 that nearly ten thousand people in the United Kingdom still watch black and white sets. They may be a variety of reasons for the choice, but one revelation is that black and white TV licenses were frozen at 49 Pounds until 2016. I am curious to see how the license increase will affect the number of black and white “aficionados.”
While it was a useful and certainly “eureka” moment, the confirmation of the meaning of “monochrome” left a sour taste in the month. As a young, impressionable mind, I too had wished monochrome could mean more than just black and white. That way it would have made the list of big words for my vocabulary! Remember, I said during my early years, the media simply educated, informed and entertained?
As an old school relic, I am disappointed that both the definition and roles of the media have undergone inexorable transformation. Today, we go beyond choosing from an array of shapes and sizes of colour television sets. For a short while earlier this year, I remember developing a love-hate relationship with my set after reading international news reports that certain television models may actually record household conversations and transmit them to – heaven knows where! Regrettably, I was not able to follow the story to its end. I would be grateful for any updates. It is my view that the mere suggestions contained in the news reports I referred to, are useful in reviewing the journey from where a single newspaper provided total coverage to today’s changed scenario, where one searches for every possible news outlet (especially online news sites) in order to compare the treatment of the day’s stories.
With the growth of satellite television, one is stretched further in terms of what media experts term “time-geography!” I mean, what does one watch, when, where, why, how? The 4 Ws and the H now do not only identify a good journalist’s report. They challenge incurable news consumers and followers of television series (soap operas?) to literally keep diaries of their viewing schedules.
The newspapers and television are still with us, recognizably advanced in their offerings. Yet the emergence and unprecedented growth of social media has opened whole new possibilities in the media world. One expert has noted that advancements in mobile telephony mean that the average smart phone user carries a virtual mobile studio in his or her pocket. Clearly, for old school parents such as I am, this is where fear returns. We clearly cannot track what our children are up to these days. I joined Facebook, frittered with Twitter, tried to keep pace with Instagram. Then I heard about SnapChat, Hangouts, WhatsApp and a host of “apps” (applications) which enable movie and music downloads.
The amounts of information available on the Internet simply leave parents powerless to have a say in what their children access. The new media does not know any borders or restrictions. Sadly, the word etiquette seems to have been rejected by many users of social media platforms.
I can only end this piece with a conversation between a father who asks his son about his day. In reply, the son, busy on a computer game, replies “you can read all about it on my blog, dad.”
Sounds like Samuel Beckett’s world..the futility of human existence? Maybe not quite there, but…..