Facebook’s founder came to Africa. His first stop was Nigeria which really riled many Kenyans. It felt like when Obama chose Ghana on his maiden trip to Africa. Kenyans generally hold a high opinion of their status in Africa and do not like playing second fiddle. Kenyans feel closely attached to Zuckerberg who has the whole country addicted to his product. As Kenyans were still ranting and raving, Mark Zuckerberg jets into Nairobi out of Lagos. He sneaks in like an Armenian mercenary, makes a courtesy call at Ihub, the technology innovation space and then goes off to lunch at Mama Oliech’s fish palace in Kilimani.
A man named Boniface Manono was the focus of a headline story about the anti-IEBC demonstrations in Nairobi and police brutality that was turned on demonstrators. Mr. Manono moved from obscurity, to sympathy, notoriety and fame in under 48 hours. He was killed, resurrected, castigated and celebrated on social media. Boniface Manono may have been a victim of police brutality, in what appeared to be a near death beating captured on camera but by the next day, he was up and bouncy defending his version of events in newsrooms. He was beaten to death and lived to tell the story.
I stumbled on the Boniface Manono episode on my compulsive Facebook visits, scanning for trending stories which now passes for research in my profession. I had not even made sense of Saleh “James Bond” Wanjala, (the man who hanged precariously from to an airborne helicopter for over a mile and lived to tell his story), before Manono intriguing tale of survival flooded my Facebook timeline, Twitter feed and Whatsapp groups.
The dating life was a breeze in the pre-social media days. The mere fact that a man could cook a meal and cleanup after was enough to get a girl rushing to her clique to announce her good fortune. Nowadays, I am told of college girls from backgrounds so humble that only running water they had ever seen before their arrival in the city was a muddy stream in the rainy season posturing like prima donnas. One year after college exposure, they will be insta-gramming pictures of dinner dates at the Villa Rosa Kempinski with plates of food they cannot even pronounce. The pressure to impress is unreal. How does a young man trying to make an honest living measure up when his under 30 peers are hiring choppers and making wedding proposals on mountain tops with accompanying pictorial evidence? Helicopters were the exclusive realm of old money politicians. Today, newbie politicians descending from the sky are so commonplace that an MP who shows up at a campaign rally in a Toyota Prado would be described as humble.
Standing out from the watus! Keeping up with the Kardarshians! Moving on up! are enduring slogans for aspirational Kenyans. Deep down, envy gnaws the social climbers’ heart. As Sauti Sol sang Heri ulie kwa Range Rover, kuliko kucheka kwa baiskeli. When it comes to blowing money and living beyond our means, scripts are downloaded from the George Best School of extravagance. George Best was an Irish footballer who played for the English Club Manchester United in the 60s and 70s era and was arguably one of better known football celebrities of the post Pele era. He was just as quick with his tongue as he was with his feet and famously said, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered”. It appears, the real motivation for having money is to squander it in front as many witnesses as possible and thanks to social media, everyone can now enjoy their five minutes of fame. There is really no point of having items of value if you cannot show them off.
This national characteristic is of course a product of necessity. Kenyan consumers are generally forwarding thinking and the slow pace of national development can sometimes be a hindrance to social elevation. Economists might label this country a third world economy but our ambitions have always been Hollywood certified and validated. We live in a country where the nouveau riche would rather make personal adjustments to their lifestyle than wait for government to fix the roads. Which explains how the helicopter got elevated to the next sought after time saving vehicle. Last month I toured a section of Luo Nyanza only recently made accessible by a road grader where a new crop of young political aspirants had all built swimming pools in their homes in shags and claimed it made their villas easier to spot from the air.
Therefore when I found out that June 30th is the official World Social Media Day, I could not help but envision a future filled with digital retards infatuated with technology. With 4 million people plus packed in a congested city, the pressure to stand out is only going to get worse with the increasing prominence of social media. Our digitally connected world has created a breeding ground for deep envy.
Social media has disrupted harmony among previously peacefully co-existing neighbours and friends with the tyranny of perfect lives. One does not even have to peep behind the curtain at well heeled neighbours to feel like an underachiever. Switch to a social media network and depression begins to stalk you upon the discovery of an academically challenged high school classmate who got straight Ds in his finals, thanking God for the brand new Land Cruiser VX he just acquired.
Self-promotion has become a way of life and an experience has not happened until it has been shared and racked up likes. Someone goes to the gym and forgets to update their Facebook status and ends up feeling guilty for wasting a good workout. The first time father’s list of priorities includes; Take selfie with wifey, tag me mates, update status and then hold the baby. Communication skills for couples is on a whole new level. A young man asks his girlfriend how she is feeling and she replies “If you had bothered to read my tweets you would not need to ask”. It won’t be long before priests at weddings start to say “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may now update your Facebook status”. We are enabling a compulsive selfie addicted generation who consider privacy bad for their image. You do not even need a cable TV subscription if you have access to Facebook. There is more real time drama in there to rival any HBO series on the air.
Social media narcissism is the 21st century equivalent of staring at your reflection in a clear pool of water and falling in love with it. God forbid, that someone stops to smell the roses and forgets to tweet about it, did it really happen? It is complicated.