Social media evolution = human devolution?

As much as I enjoy social media analytics, I’m more interested in the emotional and spiritual changes that social media signals in the U.S. This post will tackle internal drivers of our online presence, including but not limited to clicktivism. 

Have technological conveniences like the internet diluted our humanity and intelligence? Yes. Perhaps, a blanket assertion but I stand by it. We are, perversely, more disconnected and connected than ever before. As much as some attribute our smaller and lonelier world to technology, the role of personal responsibility is often overlooked.

Many of us choose to send e-mails and texts instead of placing phone calls and mailing handwritten letters.

Some choose to play Scrabble with Friends on smartphones instead of hosting a game night.

And some choose to tweet their every action instead of being fully present.

Then again, the transformative effect of technology on social interaction may just be part of necessary human evolution. 100 years ago, salons for the elite provided a platform for dialogue while today, high internet penetration allows millions of Americans, regardless of status, to converse online. Although I am not contesting the benefits of the internet and the fruits (social media) that it bears, it has resulted into the substitution of online interaction for real human connection which is an unhealthy choice that many of us have made to varying degrees. I want to underline the importance of choice since the human costs aren’t an imposition of technology. We choose how we engage.

Perhaps, as Shirky puts it, “our social life is literally primal” which explains the insatiable need for some to multiply opportunities for online interaction when our physical and temporal ability to do so becomes limiting. However, we must realize that when we change the way we communicate, we also change society. One of the most apparent manifestations of this change is activism. 

                    

I’ll come right out with it. KONY 2012 still irks me immensely. The subject has been beaten to death but its implications for how activists and concerned citizens engage in social change still resonate. As words like “slacktivism” started to get thrown around, I asked myself several questions. Are undemanding awareness campaigns congesting channels for ‘real’ activism rooted in offline action? Have we become lazy? Is the passion and urgency that fuelled the Civil Rights Movement gone or just dormant? 

                             

Much like other aspects of our online life, activism has taken on elements of fast food production in that by trying to reach a larger audience, the quality of its supply decreases. If activists had to be compared to food distributors, clicktivists would be frozen dinner shoppers and Occupy campers would be the Farmer’s Market. Do online campaigns give citizens the license not to participate in hard advocacy?  To a certain extent. Simulating political and community engagement online lulls many into feeling democracy is thriving online which takes the pressure off from political participation in real-life. Tweeting criticisms of a mayor doesn’t carry the same weight as presenting those grievances in-person at a city council meeting or debate. However, I do understand that not all clicktivists are created equal; movements like Occupy Wall Street do use the internet efficiently to mobilize supporters and translate action offline.                

                    

It would equally be unfair to undermine the agency that still exists amongst activists. Without existing motivation, social media as a tool for social change would be ineffective. Protesting can be considered a luxury when weighing the opportunity costs of citizens who cannot afford to do so. For instance, a single-father who cannot take time off to camp in Zucotti Park can still contribute his voice through an online petition or other web advocacy exercises. 

You are what you tweet?

Ever since Facebook made it to UVa.’s college campus, I’ve been affectionately (at least I hope) referred to as the online addict by my friends. At the time, whether or not you were active online made a statement. Although I was far from a social butterfly, I amassed 1,000 Facebook friends fairly quickly. It was an exciting feat but beyond bragging rights, which I didn’t exercise, it was worthless in my real-life. Almost 10 years later, my level of online activity is tame in comparison to peers however I did become more strategic. I moved on to Twitter. I learned to manage my networks and the volume/type of information I disseminated. I learned that currency in social media isn’t measured in money but rather, as Qualman describes, in meaningful engagement, participation and value creation. I had to take a deep look at myself and determine why I posted on Facebook or tweeted. I found that at times I wanted to project a certain image but for the most part, I wanted to share anything from laughs, news to music.

Jenkins believes that online users post online for the following purposes: 1) information-sharing 2) creating connections 3) Fermenting identity. The first two points are more widely discussed than the notion that we share to assert an identity. Some engage online with completely fabricated identities while some offer a one-dimensional or amplified version of their offline and even more importantly, authentic self. Are our online identities flawed representations of our actual selves? According to Klout, I’m influential on Invisible Children, Cosmetics and France however my score far from reflected the topics I’m truly knowledgeable about. If sites like Klout, which measures your online influence based on your contributions on Facebook/Twitter, are any indication, then yes- our online selves don’t always reflect our offline selves.

Unplugged: Offline Voices on Social Media

I have asked many questions in this post and decided the best way to flesh out my many questions was by taking the old-fashioned route. Talking to people. Face to face. In the street. Guerilla-style.

Below is a video I produced and edited after scouring various parks in Northwest Washington D.C. on March 5-6, 2012. We discussed anything from the hype of social media to clicktivism and online identity. For the sake of full disclosure, I knew one respondent personally. Please be warned: the winds were quite unforgiving when a few respondents gave testimony.

QUESTIONS ASKED:

How has social media played into your life?
What do you share online?
Is your online self the real you?
What do you think about the rise of online activism?
What if social media became absolete?

Eritrea: Visuals of the Red Sea People

Eritrea, a country located in the Horn of Africa, is little seen or heard in mainstream media. It is often defined in terms of its border conflict with Ethiopia rather than by its people, culture and spirit. However, when I came across Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak's photography this morning, I couldn't hold back a proud smile. Wojtkowiak captures daily life throughout Eritrea which I have highlighted below.

Beyond the MNLA: Tuareg Musicality

The Tuareg, or rather the Kel Tamasheq, peoples recently made international headlines when a Tuareg rebel group, MNLA, seized northern Mali which is roughly the size of France. The MNLA declared the region as the new independent state of Azawad however the international community has yet to recognize it.

Before political turmoil struck Mali, tales of the Tuareg romanticized their nomadic lifestyle, flowy blue garb and unequivocably dope music.

I’ve always found the desert and the resilience of nomadic peoples intriguing and found many similarities between the Tuareg of the Sahel and the Rashaida, also nomadic, in Eritrea. My interest peaked when I visited Mali a few years ago. Since then, I vowed to visit Timbuktu for the Festival du Desert (Festival of the Desert). The trailer below highlights the Festival.

Check out this impromptu jam session from the Festival du Desert.

Internationally-known band of Tuareg and Berber musicians, Tinariwen, has been at the forefront of Tuareg music. Just incredible, point blank. Catch them performing in the video below.

Intermission: Global Rapsody

Being a hip-hop head, it’s only right I finally post some gems from across the pond! The UK rap and grime scene has taken flight for decades now and some of the rap heavyweights like Kano and one of my favorites, JME, have been part of the movement. Catch him (in the middle) below along with comrades Tempa-T and Shortee. BBK! (Boy Betta Know)

However, Sarkodie takes the cake in a one-man no-holds-barred unbridled attack of the cadenced prose we’ve come to know as a freestyle. And all that in Twi, a language spoken in Ghana. 

…………………….

…………-Drops the mic- ……If you have a pen or pencil near you, drop that too.

Film Narratives of Minority Groups in France

From a very young age, I’ve devoured African and American films with equal appetite. Since I grew up in Cote d’Ivoire, most of the African films I watched were from Francophone Africa but these past couple of years, French films about African Diasporans living in France have piqued and held my interest. Most recently, 2009 French film “Welcome” stirred controversy with its portrayal of a Kurdish refugee who tries to swim to the UK with the help of a French lifeguard. The film, whose trailer can be seen below, was awarded the prestigious Lux Film Award.

Another film that has held a firm spot in my top 5 is “La Haine [Hate].” With a killer (perhaps literally) soundtrack, colorful characters, an homage to DeNiro’s “Taxi Driver” with a B&W aesthetic, it’s absolutely worth watching even if you don’t like reading subtitles. The Kassovitz-directed film takes place during 24 hours in French suburbs, often referred to as the ‘periph’, short for periphery since it is located on the outskirts of Paris.
Three male friends, one Jewish, one North African and one West African find themselves on a whirlwind adventure that spirals into gun violence and police brutality, offering important insights into second-class citizenship and race in France. What can I say. This is one of the films that made me want to become a filmmaker. A must for your Netflix.

Another film I watched this year takes a look at the racial politics of survival in French prisons. Heavy stuff but more than worth it. If you liked “American History X”, this might be your speed. The protagonist of “Un prophète” is a young Franco-Algerian who experiences growing pains (pun intended) as he vies for protection from rival Corsican and Muslim groups. 

On a lighter note, “Beur, Blanc, Rouge” takes a comedic look at nationality and first-generation French citizens. The title is a pun on a popular French slogan about its flag colors [Bleu (blue), Blanc (white), Rouge (red)] except ‘Beur’ refers to a slang term for persons of Arab descent. The main character is a girl-crazy futbol fanatic who proudly advertises his Algerian background, more so than his own parents.
A major futbol game between Algeria and former colonial power, France, heightens questions about national allegiance. Can you still be an outsider in the only country you know, were born in and raised? Is that disconnect self-imposed, intrinsic in French society or both? ..Not to get too deep but it IS a very entertaining film with or without the existentialist musings.
I’m not even sure if I used ‘existentialist’ correctly. Oh well.

Dance Fievra Azonto-style

I don’t usually pay any mind to dance crazes but azonto, a dance originating in Ghana, is way too fresh to ignore! According to Youtube user LilBoyDon, azonto is:

Azonto Dance is a form of dance which mainly involves movement of all the joints in your body in a rhythmic fashion taking very few steps. Just like most African dances, knee bending and hip movements are rudiments to dancing it. Movement in the dance include washing, driving, boxing, making-up et cetera. The dance evolved from the combination of a lot of local dance moves that originated from the southern-most part of Ghana during the early parts of the 2000s. The dance has evolved with the fast pace dance culture of modern West Africa. A closer observation of the various performers also reveals break dance moves being incorporated to it and the skinny jeans/tight shirts movement being adapted to it.

The video below gives a little taste of the popular music associated with azonto.

People have been posting videos for the past several months from Koumassi, Ghana to Copenhagen, Denmark and now, even MTN, one of the largest ICT providers in sub-Saharan Africa, is paying its respects to azonto in the video below.

Here’s a clip made by a group of African Student Union members in promotion of the first Azonto party for U.S. Tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT) residents.

D’Banj, a Nigerian artist with potentially mainstream appeal in the West, has teamed up with the infamous Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. music label. In the first and highly anticipated visual with his new label (video below), Azonto lovers will be ecstatic (at least I was) to see that the dance (at 2:20 mark) is reaching a broader audience. The song titled “Oliver Twist” also features its own dance which as the song suggests involves a variation of holding your hands out for porridge. “Can I have some more please? [Child’s British accent needed to do it justice].

Yes. I know. You’re dying to learn the dance. I’m halfway there thanks to this tutorial. It just covers the basics and you improvise the rest. (Skip to the 1:00 mark)

Blackberry Babes. The Rich Also Cry. The Widow. Baby Police. Juliet Must Die.

These are just a few titles from the thousands of movies produced by Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood’ film industry. Often dismissed as a collective of poorly edited, scripted films with outlandish plots, Nollywood is still a leading film industry, second to only Bollywood. Yes, Nollywood did in fact beat out Hollywood, producing over 2,000 feature films a year. The documentary above as well as, ‘Welcome to Nollywood' do an excellent job of weaving together the insights of Nollywood industry movers and shakers. Definitely recommend watching either one. Or both. Watch a snippet of my all-time favorite Nollywood film, 'Blackberry Babes', for some comic relief. The plot centers around a group of elitist girls who are obsessed with Blackberries, using it as a measure of status.

Nollywood films provide humorous social and cultural commentary through the wild escapades of colorful characters which are a personal guilty pleasure. Due to limited distribution and advertising dollars, Nollywood films have yet to successfully permeate a consumer base beyond Africans and its Diaspora. Piracy has also dealt a blow to Nollywood’s funds, usurping almost half of its revenue stream. Nollywood filmmakers have proven to be resourceful despite the odds even using Youtube and Irokotv.com to stream full movies.

In a world where Hollywood narratives (Blood Diamonds. Last King of Scotland. Machine Gun Preacher. You know the kind.) of Africa drown out the voices of home-grown filmmakers, thriving film industries born out of the Continent are critical. However, Nollywood bears some criticism for its character portrayal which some argue, verges on stereotypical and one-dimensional. Considering vices and good ol’ fashioned misery are often inaccurately associated with Africa, having Nollywood as one of its most visible ‘faces’ is hardly welcomed by all. But is it that serious? Can’t it just be appreciated for what it is: entertainment? It is important to note that Nollywood films do not depict the lives of all Africans but many can still relate to and enjoy what it provides. The industry certainly has appealed to many of Africa’s 50+ countries but offers less of a reliable depiction of life beyond Lagos or whichever city it was shot in. Even within Nigeria, diversity abounds between states like Kaduna and Lagos. Alas, the dangers of a single story for a massive continent. Sounds like underrated filmmakers from across Africa, who I assure you do exist, need more exposure. 

In response to mainstream Nollywood, a band of filmmakers are promoting a brand of cinema aptly named : Alt-Nollywood.  This movement, spearheaded by Zina Saro-Wiwa, aims to shed the American-style storytelling to which some Nollywood directors subscribe by producing short and witty films. Did I mention most Nollywood films are long ? As in ‘Avatar marathon meets UNESCO meetings‘ long? Well, now you’re aware. Try watching one on YouTube. Blackberry Babes anyone? 

DRC and the Coalition of the Flyest

The Democratic Republic of Congo.

Posterchild of conflict resources. Rape capital of the world. Abyss of human atrocities…..

Umm, no, it’s not that kind of blog. If that’s what you’re looking for, I urge you to turn on MSM outlets that, at times, offer one-dimensional perspectives of Central Africa’s most overwhelmingly complex nation. Apologies my dearest netizens but it’s not that kind of party. This is about the personified dopeness that resides in the DRC and the Republic of Congo, countries often confused for the other and dismissed as war-torn or a prime destination for danger junkies. I’d like to highlight something that, being from Côte d’Ivoire, I’m all too familiar with. A little something I’ll call for the lack of a better word: swag. 

 

Francesco Giusti captured the diverse expressions of fashion often associated with les sapeurs or members of La S.A.P.E in Kinshasha and Brazzaville. La S.A.P.E. stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (Society of . There is no formal enrollment process. There are no annual conventions or protocols but there is one prerequisite: style regardless of circumstance. A commitment to dressing for excellence and an ability to conjure charisma upon command.

Les sapeurs are ambassadors of cool and, inherently, resourcefulness considering their persistent delivery of haute couture despite financial constraints. Grandiose names like Baleine Sarkozy (Whale Sarkozy) and Serge Temoin de Playboy (Serge Witness of Playboy) also come with the territory. Watch les sapeurs in action below.  The 2:41 mark is classic. 

I have a weakness for documentaries on hidden communities and VICE.com gave me almost everything I needed with its latest feature on Warias, the Indonesian term for transgender. The documentary takes a look at the daily lives of Indonesian Warias. As practicing Muslims, it is intriguing to see how Warias reconcile their faith to shar’ia law, Islamic law which does not allow men to dress and or display stereotypically female traits. The level of ostracization they endure is not surprising but the documentary was still engaging as it explores living conditions, hostility from within the community and their sources of livelihood. I appreciated the editorial angle from which the documentary was filmed since it allowed the viewer to relate to the interviewees and humanize their plight rather than depict them as pariahs or freaks of nature.

 This documentary takes a simple and intimate approach, painting a story of heartbreak, economic woes, and community. However, the narrative may have been oversimplified. It would have been more informative to provide more context by looking into how the government treats Warias as well as other spheres of marginalization and empowerment which was overlooked by the filmmakers.

In my research, I found that there is an annual Miss Waria Indonesia pageant and another side to Warias. Shuniyya Ruhama Habiiballah, a Waria activist speaks to this:

 

 

"Many waria come from middle class backgrounds and have a high level of educational attainment. Many hold respectable positions in established companies. There are waria who work as designers, psychologists and sociologists. The image that all waria are sex workers or employees of hair salons is simply a myth."

It’s definitely worth watching considering the Waria community is virtually unreported in mainstream media.

Twits, I tell you! The whole lot! (pt.1)

Alexander Graham Bell (1876): “Hey, can I have your number?”

Avon Barksdale, The Wire (2000s): “Did you beep me on my pager? I told you not to use the same payphone twice!”

My sister, eight years my senior (2004): “What’s your gmail? I’ll can add you on gchat.”

University students (2004, way before high schools got added to the mix): “I’ll facebook you!”

16% of U.S. teenagers (2012) : “Are you on twitter? I’ll tweet you. #teamfollowback.”

Yes, the twitdom is upon us and twits hold the reigns, or rather, the keyboard. But is twitter just a U.S. phenomenon? The infographic below shows that 70% of twitter accounts are actually based outside of the U.S. (Source: CNN Fortune.com) These findings aren’t entirely surprising, especially considering the popular narrative of social media’s role in the Arab Spring.

This past year, social media as an instrument of mobilization during uprisings has become a big topic of discussion. Although I don’t believe online social networks are a prerequisite for revolution, they can certainly circumvent censorship laws and restrictions on public assembly. An even greater and perhaps understated benefit of social media is its low cost model of organizing. The cost of protest materials, time and labor invested in street marketing can be minimized without compromising efficiency.

Several analysts speculated, albeit wishfully, that the tide of revolutions would gain momentum in sub-Saharan Africa however, this was not the case.

But why?

Is there a shortage of engaged citizens? Are governments sufficiently accountable to the needs of its people? Do citizens have no grievances that would inspire collective action? 

A resounding ‘no’ on all counts.

Other variables DO come into play that would hinder collective action. Factors including but not limited to, a lack of access to government records (ex. oil revenues as a tool of accountability), an oppressive military and restricted press freedom. 

The social media-facilitation model of revolution assumes adequate access to and the existence of quality internet infrastructure. This is probably where I whip out statistics on how internet technology fares in sub-Saharan Africa but I’ll stop right here. For now.

Check out the comment section under the cut for some lively dialogue.

The t(H)orn in Mainstream media

I was born in Switzerland by circumstance. But I consider myself African, first and foremost, with an Ivorian heart and Eritrean roots. The recipe for an identity crisis. Or maybe just a fluid conception of ‘home.’

Growing up in Cote d’Ivoire, I was spared the ‘Save the Children’ commercials which seem to weave the fabric of Western perceptions of the Horn. Instead, from kindergarten through 11th grade, my school organized cultural events to celebrate the 60+ countries we all hailed from. Pride in our heritage and the value of cultural exchange were tenets of our school which allowed us toescape the bullet-ridden singular narrative of the Horn.

Now, when I think of the Horn, I think of my family’s resilient spirit. I think of resourcefulness and dignity despite struggle. I think of the Muna Yassin’s, the Rawiya Haj-El Khidir’s, the Tigest Tamrat’s of my childhood. Friends with whom i collected tadpoles, shared chawarmas and critiqued the latest Busta Rhymes album.

We were not mirrors of famine or political instability.

We did not represent low HDI rankings or failed states.

Angelina Jolie did not read us books during storytime. (Or whoever her 1991 celebrity counterpart was).

We did not see ourselves as the ‘Third World’.

We created our own narratives instead.

Il n’y a qu’a regarder leurs visages.

Il n’y a qu’a regarder leurs visages.

La vache qui rit

Espece de vache qui rit! Gbagbo is going back on his word to accept whatever decision the electoral results render! Being a man of integrity means remaining so even when it is not convenient. According to Les Grandes Oreilles, Gbagbo plans on dissolving the Electoral Commission on the basis of fraudulent polling practices that would have secured him a win.

Cher Laurent Koudou Gbagbo de Gagnoa,

Le peuple Africain  vous remercie énormément pour votre mission de perpétuer le stéréotype du dictateur Africain qui est incapable d’admettre sa défaite et de descendre du pouvoir en paix. Nous sommes fiers que vous ayez pu remplir cette tache difficile avec une telle aisance que même Capitaine Camara en serait jaloux.  Alors à son Excellence, Monsieur le Président de la République, le Grand Picasso, je vous dis chapeau et bravo.

Anything of the dope persuasion in the Global South. Whatever strikes my fancy.

Photography tumblr: http://requiemforthebland.tumblr.com/

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