By Bakampa Brian Baryaguma
The United Nations recognized the internet as a human right in 2010. This recognition was prompted by the vital role the internet plays in human development especially, in today’s highly globalized world. The importance of the internet cannot be overemphasized. It is a plethora of opportunities in virtually all areas of human life. Generally speaking, the internet is useful for intellectual growth, business development, and social interactions. All these are key aspects of human development.
The World Bank anticipates that the internet will play an increasingly important role in bridging the North-South divide (a term used to describe the economic disparity between the rich countries of Europe and North America vis-à-vis their poor counterparts, mainly in Africa and South America) by effectively facilitating the transfer of knowledge and technology to these under-developed societies, thereby accelerating economic development there.
A remarkable feature of the internet is the emergence of social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and several e-mail service providers. Social media has had a profound influence on communication globally, by enabling person-to-person exchanges on an unprecedented scale in human history. Today, people from across the globe, most of who don’t even know each other personally, are able to communicate with one another instantly, and with much ease. Interesting! Isn’t it?
A notable aspect of social media is the existence of “virtual communities,” which are groups of people coming together, under a common affiliation or agenda. For example, old boys and girls of academic institutions re-uniting under the institution’s banner, or like-minded people coming together to champion causes of common concern like charity, and addressing other social issues. They are “virtual communities” because they exist in space, since their members are actually long distances apart from each other in the real world (this explains their virtual nature); yet are seemingly close to one another on the internet, able to interact and share information, just like other people who are together physically on ground (this defines their community status).
But like all other things, the internet is susceptible to being under-utilized, or outright abuse, and misuse. My concern today is under-utilization of the internet, although I must say that internet abuse and misuse are important areas of concern too. Should we under-utilize the internet, we risk losing a chance to tap into its full potential to accelerate our development process.
Ugandans are not using the internet meaningfully. The majority of us just use it for gossiping, and doing other petty things. I see this happen so much on Facebook and WhatsApp, which are the most popular social media platforms. Others simply use it to quarrel with and vent their anger at people, or trends they don’t like, usually of the government and particular public figures. This would be fine, only if these angry people went ahead to suggest workable solutions or plausible alternatives to the matters they complain about. Unfortunately, this is not done. Mere shouting and hurling insults isn’t developmental.
The internet has revolutionized communication in terms of speed, cost, and accuracy. This is way too valuable to ignore or squander. We should use it more productively to accelerate our development aspirations. It should be used it to exploit the available opportunities in knowledge acquisition and creation, thus harnessing our intellectual prowess. It is a vital resource for exploring and harnessing useful business contacts, markets and trade networks, consequently enabling technology transfer.