Human behavior mostly mimics the ‘code’ that was used to programme our brain when growing up. We can’t dispense with the need for young human beings needing to be groomed by fellow human beings. It’s only natural for mankind to nurture its offspring. Even wild animals know that. We also can’t dispense with the need for human social interaction – or we think!
When we grow up around fellow human beings, the probability of behaving like those human beings is high. And when we are groomed by machines like TV, the smartphone and sophisticated algorithms, we act like those machines – the latter is akin to programmed human beings that function on algorithms
Growing up in Nakabugu Village in Uganda, we learned our social-trade via taking instructions from adults around us, especially our mother (Maama as we fondly call her) and the extended family support network around her. As children, we processed instructions – followed them and often repeated verbal messages till we had mastered the art of pronouncing and behaving in the manner expected of us by society.
In Nakabugu, children that couldn’t speak our tribal-language (Lusoga) were an oddity – it was expected that learning the mother tongue was the first requirement in any household and all other learned habits and actions were shaped on that social foundation. That’s where education started – it was socially purposeful.
Such was the strength and depth of the above social routine, imbued in Uganda’s folklore, that it was the foundation for nurturing the young and social etiquette later in life. It was via such social-diktat that instruction was passed on within the extended family social hierarchy. Our parents were able to shape, at the end of this structured social education process, adults that are now responsible global citizens.
Please note that the nurturing of the young and the sustenance of the human social fabric was perpetuated through human beings. We learned our social trade from human adults – parents, siblings, other relatives and neighbors older than we were. We learned from real human beings with blood in their veins. From them, we learned how to speak to ourselves and those near us. We used the newly acquired ability to communicate, in Lusoga, to practice and mold the right habits. For example, we were taught time and time again why it was important to greet in full sentence – ‘Hi’ wouldn’t do for greeting. We were taught to respect elders and fellow human beings, humility, sharing, etc. It was an elaborate and iterative process of passing on ‘tribal’ and in general societal isms
Our parents, but especially ‘Maama,’ didn’t have a choice but to directly run the business of seeing their offspring grow. She defined our path. She didn’t delegate this duty to digital gadgets. Even if she wanted to do the latter, in the 1970’s, we didn’t have the luxury, at least in Uganda, of 24/7 TV and smartphone access.
While our family owned a black and white TV and by the way a phone, TV back then only aired from 6:30pm to 10:00pm. So, yes, we did learn a few things from TV – but not as much as the children of today do. We also had a phone in the house – but to talk to someone on the home phone, we had to go through a telephone switchboard operator at the local post-office. We had to wait for one hour for a connection.
Don’t you all miss the structure that such analog systems brought to our lives? We weren’t enslaved by 24/7 TV and telephony as we do in this digital age. Waiting for snail mail from the post-office as opposed today’s instant email created a realistic work pace for humans; office communication courtesy of handwritten memo or for the more advanced by a professional stenographer, that was brought to our pigeonholes and office in-trays by office assistants, created much needed slack in the system to allow us reflect and do things right. We had a structure in our lives and properly apportioned time between work and home routines. Our parents, were able to give us their all, and didn’t have to deal with the emerging scourge of NCDs amongst working adults
Our parents were confident that whether they were at home or not, their children could only watch TV up to 10:00pm. We couldn’t be distracted by the phone – via Facebook and other social media craze. Growing up in Nakabugu, the only thing we could do after 10:00pm was to read the bible and go to bed.
Our parents didn’t have to worry about what we did at night. We all got the biologically recommended eight hours of sleep. Society had a structure that paced life appropriately – we even allowed time to share human to human, rest and wake up the next day rejuvenated. No wonder, even marriages lasted a lifetime – perhaps couples were just able to focus on the right things, that kept them happy and together
The digital coup and the ensuing disruption to the family
Fast forward to today, and we have so many intervening elements on the social-education circuit, that social learning and activity are, to say the least, convoluted. Yes, humans still do the teaching of the young, shaping of habits, as well as day to day human-human interactions. But at the same time, computers are encroaching on this social turf – they are doing more and more, taking the load to socially educate and interact, away from humans.
And now, the digital coup is finally making it to the home. The new digital thing – is the smart speaker. We are all excited about the intelligent speaker and the ‘human beings’ in them, be it Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – but what does this mean for mankind? See you next week