#Hunhu: Lost in Texting

It starts in the DMs and it’s lost in the DMs.

Words by Alex Gwaze (Curator) and Kiesha Hill (Poet)

Thanks to technology we are in the most connected era in human history. You would think with all this increased connectivity and digital literacy we would be the most articulate and empathetic generation of all time. But that connection has lost its reason for being. These days accessing people, places and things is so commonplace, actually communicating with someone is taken for granted. That’s why we post so much, but say so little. People are so afraid of having a mind of their own even the music has nothing new to say. How did we get here? 

As creatives we know that words have more substance in them than the sentences they form. For example, in a single word like — No! — exists our intentions, values, experiences and choices. Where have all these meanings and intentions gone? A friend of ours, who is a technician, said: “If you want to know what happened to our words you have to start with social media. In the inboxes is where our generation’s fraught relationship with words is conceived”. Well, we do not have access to peoples DMs to fact check his assumption, but we do know social media is responsible for some of the subtle changes in our vocabulary.
These subtle changes have robbed some words of their well-deserved weight whilst foolishly assigning the wrong words more substance.  Let’s take “like” and “hate” as an example. On the socials most peoples meanings and emotions boil down to either “liking” or “hating”. But what do these binaries really mean? If we are to take a gander at a dictionary: “like” signifies a preference for, fondness of, desire for, or the enjoyment of a particular event, product or person. But when it is spoken, it is often used as an almost meaningless filler. However, in the context of social media it is elevated to the level of an accolade akin to love, honour, loyalty and respect. On the socials if someone “likes” your posts, people read it as if they are approving their entire reason for being. Yet when we see the words “love”, “loyalty”, “honour” and respect” in a text, we cringe, shutdown or run for safety. “It suddenly got too real” – a young student said. So what was the point of sharing the post in the 1st place?

 “A person is a person through their interactions with others. In Southern Africa this sense of self-fulfillment and growth from communal engagement is sometimes known as ‘Hunhu’ or ‘Ubuntu’. ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’. Translated, it means — I am because you are and you are because I am. This mutuality is the governing ideology that informs our need for community. That’s what social media sites are compensating for. But what’s missing are real people in these virtual communities” – our philosophical friend told us. Whilst her whole entire statement is interesting it is the word “real” that stood out for us.

Reality for most millennials is jaded and fraught with fake promises from ‘adults’. Maybe this is why we do not want to openly feel something genuine for anything. We aspire to words that have no real feelings like “like”, “nice”, “dope” because we do not want to feel controlled, trapped, weak, foolish, or invested in the real world. “The online world is an opportunity to remake the world and yourself into the image you want, but not necessarily what you need. So when it gets too real we just delete it, block it, unfollow or go offline” – said our singer/actor friend. “God forbid you actually catch feelings on social media!” – our activist friend warned us. In this progressive world where self-interest guides all expressions, really connecting with anything is like becoming an ‘adult’. And, honestly who wants to be nostalgic in a world only concerned with the now“.

That’s how you get rejected and cancelled”, our young student friend added. And the fear of being unwanted is what prompts us police our actual feelings and thoughts. “The falseness is like a virus. I believe that’s why so many stupid things go viral online. The dumber it is that faster it spreads. Plus if it’s bad news even your grandma will know about it” – said our 40 something friend. This brings us to the other side of the story. Earlier we said social media is mostly binary – either “like” or “hate”. “People are so quick to turn to name calling and hate speech when someone says something that doesn’t fit into their personal idea of what they think is fun”- said our young student friend. “If you try to push truths or self affirmations, people accuse you of constantly ranting against the establishment” – she continued. And they will call you “boring” – we would also add.

Having an honest moment in a crowd is like asking why the emperor is running around naked. Very sobering / party ending. “Approval is the only accepted currency” – our 40 something friend said. To some degree this “like” or “hate” atmosphere has led us into a world where right or wrong doesn’t matter. We can’t help but note how the masses would rather have their ears tickled with pretty little lies than have their eyes opened with real experiences. “That’s because your generation doesn’t listen to the words. You don’t listen to the words of the songs but you memorize them. That’s so stupid because you ignore the message of the song. There is so much hate and sex in the lyrics of the songs but you act deaf. Can’t you hear all those bitches, hoes and fuck you’s in the song. That shit is immoral! – our Jazz enthusiast friend said, sounding like a preacher.

Honestly, we can’t hear shit! We are too busy listening to the beat and blocking out the rude words, so we can enjoy the few minutes of fun our long days allow us. Anyway it’s the artist utilizing their freedom of expression, right? But if we are being honest, we can’t help feeling like why is freedom of speech always expressed in a corrupted manner. Maybe that’s why some people initially ignored #BlackLivesMatter, #RhodesMustFall or #MenAreTrash; or responded with hate. They don’t know how to engage with something “real” in a fake world.

“But you mustn’t be discouraged. In 1839 Edward Bulwer-Lytton said, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. And right now in the new millennium everybody is drunk on the power of words. This moment shall pass when they are forced to talk about something real to others in their real life” – said the same philosophical friend of ours. If we were to accept his premise, that would mean we can easily regain that “Hunhu” we have lost by having more real world conversations about what really matters to us. “Lest we forget what it means to really listen, hear and exchange our ideas with passion, for the culture” – our activist friend said. But don’t monologue. An exchange of ideas is a dialogue. “Imagine receiving a message that says ‘read more’ from a hater. Best to keep your posts short and sweet … and avoid statements” – our singer/actor friend added. “Short” and “sweet”?  “Avoid statements”? Sounds like echoes from the “soft” life to us.

In the end, we have to accept the fact that we have lost our ability to grasp or articulate our selves because we are “avoiding statements”. This is probably why we can talk to people online for 5 hours straight, but cant talk to one person for 5 minutes in the real world. It’s easier to reply 100 soft and sweet texts that make us happy than it is to work on genuinely connecting to 1 person. This is because “our generation is all about hustling to get the “soft” life. That’s why the only emotion you can really express online is happiness” – our technician friend said.

Only happiness! A single emotion for a person often connected to a community of more than 100 people (at one time). ‘A person is person through their interactions with others, #Hunhu’ – just to remind us of what our philosophical friend said. Sadly, after countless hours online, and chats with over 100 people, social media persons are less than human; one-dimensional bots. At least they are happy bots …

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