Social skills will help you beat online dangers

Last week a young man committed suicide following his participation in a computer game. It was a tragic story indeed. We are becoming an increasingly wired society and a lot of our activities are moving online. Children who used to play in the yard are now playing in the study.

There is a mixture of glee and gloom as organisations move towards providing services through the e-system. Skeptics of technology are often reluctant in using them fearing what would happen to their data in case something went wrong. At the very basic indication that something is amiss, they quickly use that to support their laggard predisposition.

Late last month the challenges faced by Safaricom system brought glee to the faces of technophobes with the usual “we told you so – you cannot trust these things”. On the other hand technophiles lap every little innovation that comes by, sometimes even before the efficacy of the innovation has been completely proven.

Across the ages the younger have tended to lap technology more aggressively than the older generation. It seems interesting that this is probably reflected even in the age of democracy with economies in the middle of the superpower divide, the equivalent of the youth, lapping technology even faster.

Today, companies in some of these countries are at the forefront of innovation breakthroughs. Samsung, for example, is spearheading the lead in the smartphone market that one would have thought should have been led by iPhone, Nokia, Siemens and some of the production enterprises domiciled in the old economies.

In the migration to digital broadcasting, for example, again, these new economies harvested the benefits as the old economies worried about democratic access and the issues relating to safeguarding the rights of all citizens in the adoption process.

Today, few nations can challenge the new economies, most of them in Asia, in the adoption, of among other technologies, the gaming business. It is a field where Japan and South Korea are doing fine. As smart machines spread it is obvious that our populations, the techno laggards, are going to catch up very soon; which brings us to the question of our preparedness in dealing with the new environment.

Following the story of suicide of the young man in Eastlands, some discussions on social media immediately shifted to what the government can do to regulate gaming and the youths’ participation in it. Indeed, the CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board, Ezekeiel Mutua has pronounced himself on the matter. But is the shift to think about regulation probably bringing old tools to pave the pathway for new players?

We have, in Kenya, seemed to always have a standard response to our newfound challenges. When there are accidents on some spots of the road, our standard response has been legislation and to erect rumble strips.

Changing moments

These are indicative of society’s concern and the fact that we are willing to do something about it. Probably nothing has been as regulated as our governance particularly around elections. Nearly every aspect of the election process is regulated. Could it be possible that rather than focus on regulation, which is the old tool, we need to do something differently in light of the changing moments that we face?

The default of regulation is that it provides a mechanism for punishing offenders and if the offence increases then the tendency is to increase the punishment. But is there another way? Is it possible that the challenge we face is of teaching our population, working on our moral character among others as a means of dealing with new found challenges in our society?

Should the approach to dealing with new games be to regulate the gaming industry or educate our population as a means to dealing with the various technologies and challenges that they may face? Of course it is a more difficult approach seeking to work on our moral character than it is pulling out the stick. In a case such as the Blue Whale it may be important addressing issues relating to the role of guardians even as some thought is given to legislation.

Blue Whale certainly is not the only dangerous game out there that is inspired by advances in technology. For example, the obsession in Russia is to scale high buildings for sport and legislation has not helped.

How can parents, guardians, schools and society generally be sensitised to mold children so that they are sufficiently literate and knowledgeable in handling these innovations.

The regulatory – stick approach – fits rather well with dictatorial regimes. At the core of this approach is the understanding that the subjects are rather hardheaded and the best way to deal with them is through a kiboko that is provided by the regulatory mechanism.

Yet on the one hand we are busy fighting back dictatorial regimes, liberalising our governance, yet on the other we insist on systems that are probably not progressive.

But is it because at the very core we are still a traditional community and thus seek to look back into our past to draw out the tools that we can apply in dealing with new developments? Let us evolve our social skills to enable us deal with the challenges of new technology.

- The writer is the Dean of the School of Communication Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University