Modern communication technology is impressive, bar none! Save for it poses seemingly intractable social problems for societies, the world over. This is a veritable and apt description/conclusion of modern communication technology, and Sierra Leone is not immune! Subscribing to this argument, too, was one of my former university professors, a brilliant quantitative and media ecology mind, Dr. Ewart Skinner, who once told my “technology and society” graduate class that “modern technological progress is good but its social outlays are inestimable”. Conversely, inherently, modern communication and information-sharing technologies (cell phones, i-phones, computers, internet, e-mails, pagers …) present an ineluctable array of opportunities that could only be described as ineffable in the critical functioning of contemporary societies. But from pieces of evidence gleaned from multiple primary and secondary sources, the social changes, as a result of communication technology use, in Sierra Leone, are striking yet restrained. This piece is not designed to vitiate current communication technology, but to expose its vices in contemporary Sierra Leone, and proffer constructive social policy analysis, which policymakers might find useful in the construct of future policy frameworks.
In Sierra Leone today, modern communication technology use offers opportunity to conduct multiple levels of analyses, as well as incalculable areas of qualitative and quantitative inquiries, rich for strategic planning, policy designing and other related purposes, to the telecommunication companies, the government, academia and the Sierra Leone society, in general. In this piece, the unintended social consequences of modern communication and data collection gadgets that are ostensibly destroying the social moral fabric of the Sierra Leone society will be examined and suggestions made to address the emerging social changes in communication technology use, particularly among young people.
Interestingly today, cell phones come in virtually all shapes and sizes; they facilitate local and long distance personal, family and business communications, they even serve as calculators, video games, and, also, outfitted with other user-friendly features. The internet (computer technology) too offers an exquisite assortment of writings, drawings and other appealing features, coupled with the fact that the world is now at the finger tips of the researcher and computer nerd.
But alas! Beyond the glamour and exculpatory pieces of evidence justifying modern technology, including cell phones and internet technology, specific communities within the Sierra Leone society are exposed to myriad of social and economic entrapments, but more so, the social effects of cell phones and the internet, which is the spotlight of this critique. In an unvarnished social rhetoric, Aldous Huxley once wrote that “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards”. This is true from a sociological perspective. Neither the cell phones companies nor the internet cafés would have imagined that the use of technology, as indicated in two short studies done recently, in Kenema, would be associated with the rise in the number of teenage pregnancies, increased rate of promiscuity and incessant amplification of deviant sexual behaviors among young people. These basic studies (I intend to dig deeper into their findings, in partnership with the telecomm industry and maybe UNICEF and other child protection agencies) are alarming, to say the least.
One disturbing findings, skewed by other environmental variables, is that girls in Junior Secondary School, in Kenema, are more likely to drop out of school as a result of unwanted pregnancy. This is because, these girls, once exposed to cell phones and the internet, devices that provide comfort, convenience and productivity, if used appropriately, they become transfixed, and in constant need of “top-up cards” and money to pay for internet use. And since they are jobless, and supposedly, less means to make money, the natural recourse is to ‘sell their bodies’ (sexual frivolities) for money. In addition, other young women and girls are under intense socio-familial and economic pressures to act as ‘bread winners’ for their poor, sometimes, fatherless homes. An incredible load to carry!
In Kenema, where I am collecting qualitative and quantitative data (on a small scale) on civil society, social policy and development communication, I spoke to a 14 year old girl, named Fattie (last name withheld to protect her identity). She explained, albeit in tears, her desire to continue school and become a lawyer. Her dreams, to a large extent, have been dashed, because of the current negative social unscripted trends of communication technology use. Protecting children like Fattie, through feasible, razor-sharp and potential positive outcome social policies should be the concern of all—government, private-business sector, NGOs, academia and society.
Now, because Sierra Leone was thrust into modern communication tech use only recently, the strained, and in some cases, unavailable sound social structures, social policies and unconcealed poverty, the consequences of modern communication tech use are evidently painfully gripping. This is where strategic social policy construction comes in strongly. Strategic policy design offers social policymakers the opportunity to systematically assess, plan, construct and execute action plans, guidelines and procedures to address critical social, economic, political or cultural phenomena – in this case, the social effects of communication tech use in our society. The government, NATCOM, telecomm organizations, business sector and academia should partner to address this emerging social trend through financial support for studies and strategic actions.
There is very little qualm with the fact that modern communication technology and society intermingle daily. It is also true, in my estimation, that technology is good for development. Therefore bashing communication technology for its social ills, maybe untenable, and may serve as a disservice to the produced benefits of communication technology. However, it’s social ills must be critiqued for the benefit of society and the tech industry.
As I conclude, one hopes this piece would serve as an emerging vanguard of social analysis and policy suggestions for the government and social organizations and major society actors.
I hope to partner with NATCOM, telecommunication companies, UNICEF and the Sierra Leone society, in general, to investigate further, and submit recommendations for future policy design. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, the US, UK etc. are making progress based on the encouragement, collaboration and utility of academic investigations and professional needs assessment addressing critical social issues.
By Victor A. Massaquoi +232 76-477-250