The advent of modern technology and its widespread acceptance especially since the turn of the new millennium has impacted on families, like every single other aspect of society. In traditional Africa, families operated within webs of social relationships. They were generally extended in structure. The extended family was a major source of support and solidarity for family life in every are parenting, economic, social support, and a reliable source of psychological and emotional respite from the stresses and strains of everyday life. However, one of the major areas of societal change in Africa is in the rapid “disappearance” of the extended family system; its gradual replacement with the nuclear family, and the advent of modern technology. The term “isolated nuclear family” was coined by Sociologist Talcott Parsons who argued that contemporary nuclear family system is “isolated” because she is increasingly domiciled in cities; members are busy – now more than ever and separated from the social support that emanated from the extended family and its rural kinship and communal systems. This article examines the challenges and prospects of technology on African families, today.
ICT seems to be replacing the extended family system, replacing kinship with “social network”, especially in today’s urban Africa. Its most profound impact on African families can be viewed from three major dimensions: telecommunications, social media and leisure/recreation. Each of these is described here below.
- Telecommunications and Family: telecommunications here refer to the use of technology for communication purposes: Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM), email, social media as well as professional platforms that allow people to “move” their jobs from one place to another. Depending on how it is deployed, telecommunications can make it possible for people to “connect despite distance barrier” or to be “distant in spite of physical proximity”. For instance, families who live apart can easily connect via GSM (voice or video call/conferencing, WhatsApp and other similar facilities), so that the distance barrier is reduced. However, family members may also be living together within the same household without quality time together. For instance, one person or another may have moved his business/official tasks to the home front using ICT. Telecommunications impacts on the quality and quantity of time available for family attendance in Africa, today.
- Social Media and Family: the social media has introduced some of the most profound transformations to people, information systems and societies in today’s Africa. The emergence of different social media platforms makes networking and information sharing much easier. People relate across socio-cultural divides without having known each other from Adam or meeting physically. Huge gamut of information is disseminated uncensored, from entertainment to spiritual, education as well as immoral and anti-social stuff, with high tendencies for addiction. Although younger persons seem to be more abreast with the fast-paced advancement in ICT, the reality in Africa is that social media compliance cuts across socio-demographic divides: young, old; men, women, rich, poor; educated, uneducated and so forth. Social media is now a sub-culture of which influence spans through different spheres of society.
- Leisure, recreation, and family: Social media has also transformed the way and manner people spend their leisure. Scholars now view social media as a “leisure culture”, as most people now spend their leisure on social media. With smartphones and the GSM revolution, social media is flexible and mobile across space and time. This way, it is sandwiched into peoples’ everyday activities. Its advent has shifted focus from physical activities to the “soft” activities that characterize its usage. Social media is now seen as an easy way to relax. Again, its addictive tendencies may also rob people of the time that would have been invested in more productive ventures.
To be continued…