By Takura Zhangazha*
There is always interest in assessing how the interaction of new technologies affects everyday human realities. In the age of the internet, this is referred to as ‘augmented reality’. It refers in part to how computer and internet based technology has with the advent of the smart phone and attendant applications, influenced our senses of feeling, seeing, hearing and smelling.
In Zimbabwe’s case we are not yet at the stage where we can fully claim that we are in any full throttle experience of this ‘augmented reality’. This is not only because we lag behind in newer technologies and applications such as Pokemon Go but also due to the limitations we still have with accessing the internet.
But in our urban and peri-urban areas we certainly have our realities being increasingly mediated by social media applications that come with smart phones, especially Whatsapp. And there are certain signs that depending on the expanded reach of mobile telephony, these technologies will be available to our rural areas sooner rather than later.
And it’s a good thing that many more Zimbabweans are able to receive, impart, feel new information as it relates to how they perceive their own realities. With social media, as I have noticed over the last few months, it is a combination of the reality that one experiences or wants to experience that urges people to use these platforms with new vigour and energy. So much so that Zimbabwe’s government has issued serious threats against those that would use it for human rights activism or even political ends and purposes such as calling for the resignation of the current president.
The latter point is indicative of the emergence of augmented political realities. That is to say, political perceptions and actions that are increasingly supported by social media platforms and access to the internet via mobile telephony.
At the moment social media is much used by civil society and political party activists to express varying views on the state of human rights or political affairs in the country. It is also used to widen the reach of the target audience of their actions, who are within the country as well as in the Diaspora. All done via the medium of social media. Very few civil soceity activists now undertake any activity or action in the absence of a smart phone that has access to the internet.
Those that dispute these particular versions of ‘augmented’ political reality have also been trying to augment their own using similar platforms. These are largely pro-ruling establishment/party supporters who though not having as significant an internet reach as their opposite numbers, are indeed also acting out what they know, perceive or wish to be real using social media. Some members of Parliament have taken to showing images of themselves in rural hinterlands to demonstrate their political legitimacy and they consider ‘real’ politics.
There are also others that want specific realities in their own right and that have used social media to augment these. These realities are not evidently political though they remain the primary targets of political actors. The actors here, largely defined by class interests, are composed of family, church, financial savings groups, traders associations, teachers unions, civil service associations, artists and student associations using social media platforms, especially Whatsapp.
Their political interests tend to be ephemeral/temporary as driven by what they see, read or feel in the immediate about issues such as bond notes, non payment of salaries or violence via social media. They are also not consistently politically active and tend to lean more toward familiarity than radical or holistic change. They just want their lot not to be interfered with.
All of these outlined ‘augmented’ realities are about both what is in effect ‘real’ and also what is ‘desired’. The pro-opposition and pro-ruling party political perceptions/understanding of reality will ratchet up their contests for dominance. In these, it is the augmented reality that takes care to closely link up what occurs off line with what is preferred online, that will be most successful.
This is because however we are using social media and newer technology (when it eventually/inevitably arrives here) to augment our respective political and other realities, it is not the singular sum total of the same.
To achieve whatever it is that we are pursuing, social media alone is not enough. It needs to be grounded in lived reality more than it is about outlining a desired future.
Hence the success of the not so political augmented realities of church, school civil service associations, informal trade and family related social media groups. The clearly combine value systems, principles, institutional capacity, physical organisation and planning with social media applications. The latter does not replace all of the former. It augments it.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)