Although everyone living in today’s complex world of communication technologies can be considered a part of the digital generation, that is not the context in which this writer is using the expression. For the purpose of this piece, digital generation is used to denote “a generation of people born in the digital era that has grown up with access to digital information and the abilities to navigate the new communication technologies.” We could say, based on this description that any young person under 30 years of age conveniently belongs to digital generation. The shift from mechanical and analogue electronic technologies to the use of digital electronics marked the beginning of the digital age or revolution also known as the third industrial revolution. Specifically, this started in the later part of the 20th century.
Truly, there’s nothing wrong with the digital revolution or age. Neither is anything ordinarily sinful nor immoral about being a young boy or girl in the digital age. What, perhaps, looks worrisome is how the psyche, character and general disposition of today’s young Nigerians came under the heavy influence of the digital revolution. Nearly everything about this digital generation seems to negate the general expectations of parents, teachers, elders, government, and the society. Sadly, the generation under reference does not appear to realize that something is wrong, either with its thinking or way of life.
I was privileged in the early part of the week ending today, precisely on Tuesday October 31, 2023 to witness the opening ceremony of the 13th National Conference on “Literature and Environment in Northern Nigeria.” The event was scheduled to start at 10am, and by 15 minutes past 10am, nearly all VIPs invited to grace the occasion, including the Keynote Speaker, the Guests of Honour, the Lead Paper Presenter, the Chief Host, and the Conference Convener had not only arrived but were all seated in the hall waiting for the event to commence. By this time, both undergraduate and postgraduate students who stand to profit more than any group of participants were nowhere to be found. Only a few of them were seated. Since the VIPs did not come there to talk to themselves, they had to sit for another 45 minutes when there was substantial number of students in the hall before the event started at 11am.
For some of us who saw the ‘evening’ of the classical Nigerian society, it was a serious act of deviation if not an abomination while we were growing up as kids in the early 1960s for leaders and elders to arrive at a public function before the participants, spectators, or even officials of the event. In those days of high tone of discipline in schools, no pupil or student risked arriving late at the morning assembly, afternoon or evening prep, night roll call sessions (in the case of boarding schools), sports field, club and society meetings, or even at any school event. In the case of arriving late in the dining hall, the punishment for late-comers was for them to be denied their meal. As junior students who were also called ‘fags’ by our seniors in those days, we never dared to go late to the dining hall because that would amount to missing the food of your ‘master’ or ‘room-master’. And you know what that meant in schools at that time.
This reminds me of one evening, which for decades, had remained indelible on my mind. I once arrived late at the dining hall because I went to queue for the water which my room-master would, the following morning, take bath with. When the bell for dinner was rang, it was not my turn to put my bucket under the tap from which water was trickling at less than the normal heart-rate per minute. By the time I was through with the water issue, dinner was over. Yet, I proceeded to the dining hall and met one of the cooks I was familiar with. As a woman who always did everything a mother would do for her child, she collected a plate of the beans that was served that evening for me, and out of kindness, filled the aluminum plate to the top. Out of fear, I thought it was better I took the food to my room-master while myself would drink gari with kuli-kuli. When my ‘oga’ in the room opened the plate of beans and saw it was full to the top, he angrily said, “You this small Ndagi, why did you go to collect remnants for me from the kitchen? I was told you went to the dinning hall late. Just sit down and eat everything in that plate. That’s your punishment.” I will never forget that night. Seniors, in those days, were tyrants in boarding schools.
“Punctuality”, which they say or used to say, “is the soul of business” is no longer appreciated by the digital generation of our children. In examination halls, invigilators go the wait for digital generation of students instead of the students or candidates waiting for the arrival of invigilator(s). Unlike our analogue days in the university when we would be seated in classrooms or lecture halls whether or not the lecturer would come, today’s digital generation of students would send an SMS to find out from their lecturer if he or she would come for the lecture. The daring ones among them would even call the lecturer to ask if he was coming. Others would wait for the SMS that would announce the lecturer’s arrival before they would hurriedly pick up their notebooks, take a drop of Keke-NAPEP to the lecture venue, and tiptoe into the class from behind. During our time, we always took advantage of a lecturer’s absence to discuss topics that have not been properly understood by many or used the time to read or revise previous lecture notes. Our digital generation would rather use such spur-of-the-moment periods for chatting on WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms.
I recently came to realise, though painfully, that one requires extra-patience and a large heart in order to live in peace with the digital generation of contemporary young people. Wither digital generation that has lost all the virtues, which hitherto, defined our traditional society as classical, and ourselves as responsible, honest, altruistic, devout, and caring citizens? May Allah guide the digital generation of young Nigerians to the path of righteousness, and enrich us all in patience and piety, amin.