By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)
Connected? I am sure you are, for if you are not, you may just have missed being “literate” this century. Whether you are an infant (!) or a very aged person, make no mistake about the omnipotence of this new gadget to go with the cell phones and surround sound TVs already with us.
The pen and paper of this century? Absolutely. Or if you may, the Keyboard and the Mouse of our times. However, while the euphoria about this new acquisition is just about settling, it may be interesting to check out the pros and cons of the new medium.
Firstly, we must realize that the e-mail is a medium for communication, and the Internet a global pin up board where marketers place publicity material and individuals post information (educational) or messages (personal). For us to be able to use this medium effectively, we must appreciate that, like any other gadget, the super highway has the positives as well as the negatives.
Let us look at both sides. Faster communication, cheaper communication, access to information. An individual based in New York does not have to necessarily phone a relative in Dar Es Salaam (although 2 net phone is now available as well). He can simply send a typed message and it will be read, almost instantaneously by the intended recipient in a matter of seconds. With this strength of reach, the ground is open for both genuine users and mischief-makers to spread a word by merely pressing the “Send “button. In this regard, it is imperative to understand that email messages are not to gospel truth and are not any different from the ancient telegrams that were sent out in those days. The intention is to pass a message.
On the aspect of cost, monetarily there is no argument. Web based transfer of messages is the cheapest form of communication available today.
Information: There are hundreds or maybe thousands of websites (chapters in a book). All you have to know is the name of the site, and you are comfortably accessing information. Because of the magnitude of the reach and extent of the Internet, marketers have ably made their powerful presence felt. The challenge to the user is to be able to discern between information and publicity. This line is very thin and everything seems like new information whereas it is not the case.
But while on information, further obstacles or prerequisites line the way. The user, if devoid of responsibility – moral, financial, etc. is bound to suffer irreparable loss. A minor using this powerful tool and intrigued by the mystics of adolescent life, no longer has to sneak into a movie theater to view pornographic material, he simply has to type in the key word in a search engine and a whole lot of sites will be listed. Therefore, the nature of usage is immensely important. The story of the traditional knife still applies, with options to use available to the user.
Again, there is another more serious aspect: authenticity. One must understand that messages or information pinned on the WWW need not always be truthful and free of commercial motive. 9 times out of 10, they will have been guided by the profit motive and so users must beware of the way in which troublemakers may influence sound minds.
As Muslims, we are expected to join in the super highway but continued to exhibit the conduct characteristics of the Shia of the Ahlulbayt. When discussions corrupt into mud swinging, and when undue political importance is hyped up by a few individuals in the name of a global forum we may not have entirely appreciated the potent nature of the medium we are now using. The responsibility comes back to us whether it is restricting or guiding our children to independently use it for educational reason or conducting mature and advantageous discussions.