What drives the age we are in is information. Since the dawn of human civilisation, information has been the agent by which strides were made in human advancement.
Due to lack of appropriate technology during the early years of human civilisation, information by way of books was confined to monasteries and similar church institutions. Producing a book was a lengthy and painstaking process because each volume had to be copied out by hand.
This changed with Johan Guternberg’s invention of movable type and the printing press in or around 1450. Suddenly, books and other reading materials, including newspapers, could be mass produced, ushering in a new area known as the Renaissance—the rebirth of knowledge. The general public could now access knowledge like they had never been able to do before.
But even with books around, information has not been easy to access because books are bulky and expensive and, therefore, cannot easily reach every corner of the earth.
The Internet has introduced another version of the Renaissance in the sense that information is now much more readily accessible than has been the case at any point in human history. The Internet is larger many times over than all the libraries in Malawi put together. And the information is literally at anybody’s fingertips.
With such a mind-boggling load of information so easily accessible, giant leaps can be made in human development. People should be much more knowledgeable now, and hopefully, wiser than they have been before. What we see on the ground, however, is so different, talking about the case of Malawi. People in Malawi are probably more ignorant now than they were prior to the coming of the Internet. The average Malawian, for example, would not know the difference between the United Kingdom, England and Britain. Their argument will be that such knowledge will not put a meal on their table. While this may be true in the short-term, in the long-term it is the accumulation of seemingly useless knowledge that will give people the impetus to search for better ways of doing things, and in the process propel them to elevated standards of living. In the final analysis, no bit of wholesome knowledge is useless.
Now, it is not that Malawians do not access the Internet. They do, and in a big way, but their focus is not knowledge; rather it is simply chilling out by chatting with friends, real or virtual, or downloading music or videos. There have been and still are a number of Internet cafes in many corners of our country. These are generally well patronised, but more likely than not, the patrons to these cafes will be using the e-mail facility on the Internet rather than engaging in a serious search for information.
I once frequented a certain Internet cafe along Victoria Avenue in Blantyre. I discovered that some of the regular patrons to that cafe were briefcase pastors, the breed that get immaculately dressed in jackets that go a good distance past the waist. At first, I thought they would be searching the Internet for church history, or information on some of the tough religious debates such as the true meaning of the Sabbath, or the doctrine of predestination by John Calvin versus that of the Armenianists that dwells on one’s free will and sovereignty, but nay these guys spent one hundred percent of their time on e-mail. They were trying to solicit funding from some imagined good Samaritans out there.
There are many Malawians who do not know that there exists a whole section of the Internet outside Facebook or WhatsApp or other social networks. That you can get a mountain of information using search engines (Google and others), web crawlers or directories is beyond a good number of Malawian Internet users.
As we search within ourselves, let us learn to use the Internet as a tool for getting valuable information in any field. We can truly enrich our knowledge base simply by spending time visiting the appropriate sites on the Internet. A knowledgeable community is a healthy community because it will constantly be sitting on the knife edge, trying to find better ways of doing things. Chatting by means of social networks may be important to some, but its value pales into insignificance compared to the value of educating oneself through the Internet. n