Saturday, 2 May 2015

How Smart Phones Control Relationship of Nigerian Youths

Mobile technology takes over Nigerians’ relationships 
If she had received immediate medical attention eight years ago on the day she slipped in the bathroom and banged her head on the floor tiles of the three-bedroom bungalow that her children built for her in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Mercy’s grandmother would probably be still alive today. She would have clocked 85 in August, 2015. However, she didn’t survive the accident.

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On that fateful day, it took the 77-year-old woman about one hour to crawl to her bedroom to put a call through to her neighbour. By the time she could make the call, she was already weak, unable to lift a finger again. The neighbour, a lecturer in one of the tertiary institutions in the state, heard the scream of the old woman loudly enough for him to rush down to her apartment. In the twinkle of an eye, he carried her to his car and rushed her to a hospital in the town. Later, he called one of her children – Mercy’s father – who resided (and still resides) in Lagos to inform him of the incident.
When the family visited the old woman in the hospital where she was on admission, the doctor said she had been suffering from partial stroke few months before she slipped in the bathroom, but since the old woman never knew how deadly the condition could turn to, she did not tell any of her children probably because she didn’t want to bother them.
It was a terrible day for the family – and the pain is still unbearable to them till today, according to Mercy, a 24-year-old Accounting undergraduate, who narrated the story to our correspondent.
“While growing up, I remember how my parents would take my siblings and I to visit grandma in Ogbomoso to spend most weekends and holidays with her. I remember vividly how grandma would put me on her laps and pat me gently on the back. She was so caring and lovely. She was an angel. We would go on a Friday when my parents finished from work and we would return to Lagos on Sunday evening. It was lovely and I always looked forward to it. But suddenly, we stopped,” she said.
Mercy explained that ever since the advent of mobile phone in the country and her father bought one for her grandmother, that was when the frequency of visitation reduced. “You know, everyone could call her on the phone without having to travel again to see her physically. My father would call her on weekends and everyone in the family would speak with her, so maybe he felt there was no need to visit again,” she sobbed as she spoke with Saturday PUNCH. “I would ask after her and my father would just pick the phone and ask me to speak with her, but I always wanted to see her. Later, he resorted to complaining that the journey was stressful and gave reason that since there was phone, there was no need to visit again. I was always annoyed, but there was nothing I could do.”
She added, “So on the day I heard grandma was admitted in hospital due to stroke, I was angry because if my father had kept visiting like he used to, he would have known. She would have complained about something being wrong with her body and we would have sought medical care for her. Neglect made her to die.
“I tell my friends today, there is nothing better than one-on-one relationship, I visit them and they visit me. I don’t want any of my loved ones to be a victim of mobile technology usage again. It can never be compared with real life communication.”
Her argument up till last Tuesday when she narrated the incident about her grandmother to our correspondent was that she wouldn’t have died at that time if her parents had not been contented with communicating with her via the phone only. Mercy is perhaps different in many ways from many young and old people today that would rather stay glued to their mobile devices to communicate with their loved ones, thanks to the internet and social media.
With the advent of the internet, especially mobile technology and social media, many Nigerians, like their counterparts around the world, have taken communication with their loved ones beyond offline to the cyberspace.
Meanwhile, studies have indicated that the number of smartphone users worldwide would surpass 2.2 billion in 2016 – up from 1.9 billion in 2015, according to an online researcher, eMarketer.
In Nigeria already, there are 55 million internet users with a 32 per cent internet penetration; there are 114 million mobile subscriptions with a mobile penetration of 65 per cent; and on the social media space, a whopping 11 million are on Facebook with a penetration of 6 per cent – plus millions more on WhatsApp, Twitter, BBM and other platforms when combined together, according to a 2014 report compiled by We Are Social.
Though she had a smartphone, Blessing Okon wanted real discussion with her childhood friend, Jessica, about the performance of her favourite artiste at a recent awards dinner that she couldn’t watch on TV. She felt insulted when the latter’s response was “Go and watch it on YouTube.
“In other words, she told me not to disturb her or perhaps she was saying that she was too busy to talk to me. I seriously felt it was an insult because we’ve been friends for years and we’ve always discussed. I was surprised she said that. I knew I could have watched it on YouTube, but I just felt like we should have a gist that day,” Okon told Saturday PUNCH, adding that, “I love what technology is doing for us, but I feel it’s breaking real world relationships. For instance, my friends that would ordinarily call me in time past don’t do so again. They feel like once we chat on social media, we don’t need to call ourselves again. Though the social media could be a cheap way of communicating, they are also costly in the other way round to me.”
It is costly indeed, especially to Mrs. Felicia Omobolade, whose five children all live in the cities. Though she has a phone to communicate with them, she said she does feel lonely many times as she could not see their faces. She said, “My children only call me. I would love to see them almost every time, but I know they have to work so I don’t like bothering them. They told me it’s the technology age and bought me a phone that I should be using to send them messages on Facebook and WhatsApp, but I don’t know how to use those services. They said I could see their faces on the phone. A mother knows it cannot be like seeing them. We carry them in the womb for nine months and that makes us feel much more connected to them. That problem of loneliness cannot be solved by Facebook or whatever it is called.”
A Nigerian cleric who resides in Benin Republic, John Oladapo, told Saturday PUNCH his relatives feel same way as Mrs. Omobolade because there is no way he could be making frequent visits to them due to the long distance.
He said, “I can pick my phone and call them anytime, any day, anywhere, but I know it is true you can’t feel connected with someone you only hear on the phone or chat with on the social media because those things are not real life platforms. There’s no doubt, these services are solving some of our problems, but there will always be the other side of the coin to every issue. I remember those days when I was in Nigeria and I would visit friends and families from house to house. Even if it were possible today, people everywhere are busy. Everyone hooks up on Skype, Facebook and the rest.
“Family aside, evangelism is better done today via the internet but it also has its disadvantages. It is still good to visit people rather than relying on the internet. Real connection with real people takes place in real life, not on the phone. Deals are better done when you meet with the person you’re dealing with rather than thinking they are what they claim they are on the internet. The internet audience cannot be trusted.”
‘Real people don’t exist online’
That could have been the conclusion of Cynthia Osokogu, if she were alive today. Trusting online friends was perhaps the mistake the young woman made before the incident that led to her murder about two years ago.
On February 27, 2014, few months after her murder, a prosecution witness, Joseph Edo, told a Lagos High Court that her alleged murderers, who lured her through Facebook, had her death planned all along. Edo said Osokogu’s alleged murderers had bought a chain and a cello tape few days before they used them in allegedly killing her.
The alleged murderers were said to be in the business of first of all befriending young women on the social media, luring them into hotel rooms, raping and stripping them of their belongings. Osokogu’s incident would be their last assignment before nemesis caught up with them.
She thought they were real people, real friends; however, they were not. They were people who would eventually take her life at such a stage of her life when she was about graduating from the university.
Perhaps another recent incident that would readily come to mind and justify that real people may be hard to find on the internet was the kidnapping of the Orekoya children. Their mother, in desperate search for a housemaid that would seek to the welfare of her kids, never figured out that as there are real people on the internet and social media, so are ‘the devils.’
She trusted her newly-found maid with the responsibility of taking care of her kids, but the latter’s action could now make her better realise that “you have to watch your back when you seek friends and people online.”
A Lagos-based Information Technology expert and social media strategist, Matthew Oladepo, told Saturday PUNCH that ‘caution’ is the watchword of the social media age; otherwise, people would keep getting hurt and burnt from those whose mission “is to steal, kill and destroy.”
He said, “There are downsides to every technological advancement. We can relate faster with ourselves in this age, but people have to be cautious because as there are genuine people out there, there are many more that are not. You have to keep watching your back. You don’t trust quickly people that you meet by chance on the social media except you’ve been friends before. For instance, I don’t accept every invitation I receive on the social media. I read the person’s profile to see whether they are genuine and also see if I have mutual friends with them.
“If there is no connection whatsoever between us, I discard them immediately. In fact, the truth is it is far safer to meet the person you want to be a friend with physically than making the friendship online. You cannot fully judge a person’s character on the social media and you can’t see their expressions, but if it were to be physically, you will. Better friendships are built offline, not online.”
‘Digital life affecting real relationships’
Emeka Nwabueze, who lives in the Ketu area of Lagos mainland, leaves for work in the early hours of the day and returns home late in the night. By the time he’s back, he gets tired, but not tired enough to put his smartphone and laptop down. This action has provoked his wife many times, who feels her husband must spend the remaining hours of the day with her.
“It’s not easy to put the phone down. The notifications, the beeping, social media updates, texts and calls are uneasy to unfollow,” he admits. “It is now that I’m trying to do away with the habit, but not quite easy to cut off once you’ve become addicted to it. I have to confess I check my smartphone every morning before I even greet my wife. I only put it away when I know she’s fully awake. It’s not good, I know, but it’s not easy.”
It is definitely not easy, a study on how the use of mobile devices and the social media have affected real human relationships has shown.
Two American psychologists, Brandon McDaniel of The Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Coyne of Brigman Young University in Utah, stated that smartphones could be the ‘third wheel’ in a relationship and distract couples from each other.
In a poll they conducted among 143 women, three quarters of women in long-term relationships claimed they felt that smartphones were interfering with their love lives while a quarter claimed that their partner had texted during an important conversation.
They concluded that being emotionally attached to the smartphone and relying on it every minute might harm relationships, stating that an increasing number of people in long-term partnerships were having to compete with their partner’s smartphone for attention, making it the ‘third wheel’ in their relationship.
Their findings, which were published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture journal, stated that, “By allowing technology to interfere with or interrupt conversations, activities, and time with romantic partners – even when unintentional or for brief moments – individuals may be sending implicit messages about what they value most, leading to conflict and negative outcomes in personal life and relationships. That’s insane to say that as a professional who researches this, but we can let these devices overrule our entire lives if we allow it.”
Even with the most devoted couples, they found out that once-common conversations in bed had been replaced with endless scrolling through social media apps or funny image-based sites – individually.
An employee of one of the banks on Lagos Island, simply identified as Isaac, confirmed to our correspondent that the study was true in his case. “When my wife and I come back from work and are on the bed, I have discovered that she would be browsing through fashion blogs on her tablet while I also would be doing mine. It’s a fair situation. At times we could be on the bed for hours, each with our devices, saying nothing to ourselves, checking different things. If something interests her, she would show me, and vice-versa. We could be like that for hours before we both sleep off. I truly admit to the study,” he said.
But there is a way out to every problem.
A psychologist, Mrs. Funmilayo Adegoke, said it was high time people realised the danger in being unable to do away with the gadgets. She said, “People think they can’t do without those devices, but they can. Ultimately, it’s about self-discipline and taking personal responsibility for the amount of time we spend on our phones. Just because we have constant access to the internet doesn’t mean we need it every day.”

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