E-Mail: The New Possibilities

By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Technology: 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 e-mail is a medium for communication, and the Internet is 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 phones 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 the word by merely pressing the “Send “button. In this regard, it is imperative to understand that email messages are not gospel truths 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 theatre to view pornographic material, he simply has to type in the keyword 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 motives. 9 times out of 10, they will have been guided by the profit motive and so users must beware of how troublemakers may influence sound minds.

As Muslims, we are expected to join in the super highway but continue to exhibit the conduct characteristics of the Shia of the Ahlulbayt. When discussions corrupt into mud-slinging, 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 reasons or conducting mature and advantageous discussions.

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About the author

Mohamedarif is a marketing professional and educationalist with a penchant for writing as a hobby since childhood. As he experimented writing about sporting events at first and then current affairs, he quickly developed a skill for observation of his environment and began to write on reform topics, especially in connection with the community. To further feed his pursuit of writing, he founded several newsletters and bulletins at his school and at the Husayni Madrasah in the 1980's, all the time learning from others already in the field not just about writing, but also about pre-press and production processes. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Knowledge Magazine in 1995–1996. A decade later, importing a flurry of ideas into his new home, Nairobi, he first founded a two page community newspaper then became a regular writer of the Friday Faculty before establishing the Community on Friday, a fully fledged Madrasah magazine in 1996. And while his writing at the community continued, he simultaneously started writing for a business weekly, pairing in with his newfound role as a marketing professional. During his time in Nairobi, he wrote several speeches for sitting chairmen and presidents while also giving some himself, developing his concurrent role as a public speaker and trainer.

With changing times and a decrease in advertising sponsorship, as well as a fall in overall readership, Mohamedarif transformed this publication into an electronic blog. Thus was born the Community on Friday in its present format.

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