This was my CC3 Toasmasters speech on the 26th of June, 2012. A few of the facts may have changed since I did this speech, but the gist of the argument can still be engaged.
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
I wish to discuss with you today whether social media, like the esteemed libraries of our institutions of higher learning should be the preserve of the more erudite of our society.
A few months ago, I read with very keen interest an article by Eusebius Mckaiser called “The Unfortunate Invention of Khaya Dlanga.” He writes about Khaya Dlanga , whom he accuses of being famous for being virtually famous. Mckaiser decries the fact that this appeared to get Dlanga invited for speaking engagements even dinners with Ambassadors. That, at the time, Dlanga had a plethora of friends on Facebook and throngs of followers on twitter…and his claim to fame? Well Mckaiser found this befuddling to the mind.
Mckaiser’s gripe with Dlanga is that he does not write pieces that can be seen to be intellectually stimulating. Pieces that can withstand the rigour of academic peer reviews.
Dlanga, to his defence, has never put himself forward as the crème de la crème of the most astute of intellectuals. And this, I say because of the audience he seems to be courting. He writes for News24, amongst other publications, where his role seems to be that of pushing the proverbial boundaries of culture. Occasionally, he comments on the politics of our time. It appears to my judgement, which admittedly isn’t that of a connoisseur in these matters; his is almost always a rather populist take on issues.
Opinions may vary on this, but from observing interactions in terms of an enlightened readership, I’d say The Daily Maverick and The business Day come top followed maybe by The Mail and Guardian, then The Times and News 24 at the base of the pyramid.
I must qualify this; the aforementioned is based on only sites I engage with often enough to form an opinion on. My basis for the conclusions above is the calibre of debate one would witness in these sites, maybe even the quality of contributors you find on these sites. The latter though, may not always be a very reliable indicator as some of the contributors write for several of these publications, and it sometimes is really up to them where they want their pieces published.
Now, if you do read News 24, you’ll know how easily an article on a domestic issue between a couple can actually elicit comments about the potholes on Hendrick Potgieter or on how incompetent the ANC is, they can often turn into absurd comments about racism. I’ll leave you ladies and gentlemen to draw whatever connections you wish to infer from this.
Meanwhile the other sites like The Daily Maverick, The Business Day and even the Mail and Guardian are often characterised by solid and well qualified engagements.
Let’s explore deeper the enigmata that these two gentlemen are. We’ll start with Dlanga.
One concept he enjoys exploring is that of the friend zone. He wrote an article in the news24 with the title “Thou Shalt not be friend-zoned.” He defines this zone with the very able help of Wikipedia as
“ A dating term describing a relation in which one partner wants to become intimate romantically while the other prefers to be just friends. It is generally regarded as not a positive development, particularly for a man. The sense is that once this has happened to a relationship, it’s difficult to undo.”
He starts off his article with the following:
“The friend zone is a dangerous place to find oneself in. It is virtually impossible to extricate oneself out of friend-zonism. Many naïve young men have willingly come into the friend-zone thinking that they can get out easily. No, my friend. Don’t fool yourself. It is an abyss so deep and dark you can’t get out. And worse, you can’t get into the deep dark place you really want to get in.”
It has to be stated though that he has written other articles with a more solid, pragmatic and even methodical basis. So Dlanga, though can often be found riding on populist predilections in some of his offerings, is definitely quite enlightened as can be seen by the brand he’s managed to make of himself.
A quick search on the internet shows you that he’s now the Senior Communications Manager: Content Excellence and Digital at The Coca-Cola Company. Amongst his accomplishments in advertising, he lists a Cannes Gold. These awards apparently are the Grammys of the advertising industry.
Mckaiser on the other hand is the 2011 World Masters Debating champion. Just last year, I had the privilege of attending the Ruth First Memorial Lecture where the Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was the keynote speaker. Mckaiser presented a research paper on SA foreign policy with a specific interest on SA’s relations with Lybia.
An alumnus of Mckinsey who now paces up and down the corridors of Wits University deciding whether to engage with the virtual or real selves of the people he encounters during these escapades.
Lately he can also be heard on Radio 702 and Cape Talk 567 midweek between 21:00 and midnight.
This is a man who’s something of a linguistic purist. It is not unheard of for him to threaten to defriend a person who uses SMS shorthand on his Facebook wall. His Facebook wall is indeed a hodgepodge of intellectual interactions. He is a brilliant orator and certainly a very prolific writer.
Mckaiser is a Rhodes Scholar whose doctoral thesis at Oxford University sought to interrogate whether or not we are morally responsible for our beliefs. He is well accomplished, and now even writes for the New York Times. He writes very well, his style is something of a hybrid between George Orwell, Zakes Mda, and Bessie Head, perhaps you could even throw JM Coetzee in there. Yes, his writing is that impossibly delectable. His insight on matters political, ethical, legal or even economic perhaps has for a peer only the good palate for a resounding and timeless verse that is so conspicuous in Shakespeare’s “Let me not to the marriage of true minds”.
From the points I’ve just laid down before you, can we reasonably conclude that Mckaiser has a point on his criticism of Dlanga?
Do we want Physics professors for gatekeepers on our social networks? Doesn’t this then defeat the very purpose of these media? You see the strength of social media is its allowance of only self-censorship. Those with inclinations of only thinking after having tweeted will unfortunately witness their demise on these platforms as Jessica Leandra Dos Santos, who posted racist comments on twitter, can attest.
Social Media is just an immediately accessible outlet for the one who’s frustrated. The one who wants to be heard, even those that are hopelessly in love. The moment this is eroded, the very identity of social media will be lost.
I submit to you ladies and gentlemen, and I hope this is in language academic enough for you my learned friends, that Social Media has brought about a paradigm shift that now allows the reader and writer to find one another. A shift that will truly allow for, in Darwin’s words, the survival of the fittest. And thus I do not agree that we should have our tweets peer reviewed.
The eel is widely hailed as the undisputed champion of the slippery beings. It is said to have a knack for negotiating paths through even the most unrelenting of grasps. I guess an attempt at holding the eel firmly could be compared to trying to hold and restrain water in a clenched fist. It’s absolute craziness. The Pedis would refer to it as “go rakedisha leswiswi ka sefepi” which directly translates into chasing darkness with a sjambok. Very futile!
I wonder if the pursuit of love is quite as futile, if futile at all. This concept confused even the man considered the greatest of thinkers ever – Solomon. You see, I find it hard to listen and learn about marriage from someone who has never been in one. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. So, empirically speaking he had relatively solid ground on which he stood. He could speak authoritatively. And here is what he had to say: “There are three things that amaze me – no, four things I do not understand,” he then proceeds to mentioning the first three before concluding with “how a man loves a woman.” [Proverbs 30:18-19]
But then again, should we even try to wrap our heads around the concept of love? Or should we just dive into the deep end and see how we float? It’s that dangerous, I suppose. It certainly is an act of faith. How one gets burnt and yet still is able to dare love one more time or even a few times more simply boggles my very limited mind. Then there are those who get hurt and vow never to love again…understandably so I suppose. But what’s the point of holding prisoner a heart that keeps threatening to leap out of your rip cage and take your very life?
Love is just too slippery a concept. But is she anywhere nearly as elusive as our dear friend Miss Eel? Should we even bother chasing after her? She has become a huge industry. Songs are written and very occasionally re-written about her for she enchants many. Shakespeare earned a chunk of his fame from being her praise singer. He wrote in sonnet 116: “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.” Men have an exclusive date with greatness in her bed and are often stripped of it in the same room. She clearly is a very potent force. You could never tell if she’s pulling or pushing coming or going!
Such is the nature of love, or is it?
Have you ever had your heart beat so violently inside your rip cage as if threatening to jump out and take your very own life?
This is my story. It is one fraught with twists and turns nothing akin to what would drive ones heart to the extent of taking the very life it sustains. I’ve always been one to take the road that Robert Frost described as the one less travelled by.
Two roads diverged in a wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one travele, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
I have to confess though that often I spend so much time trying to figure out which of the two roads is the one less travelled by than actually travelling it. I believe when it comes to thinking out of the box, that I really don’t keep such boxes. Mine is a mind that seeks to traverse grounds never trodden.
But you see, my mind’s escapades have not come at no cost. Like the story about the free Israelites spending decades dithering in the wilderness and not reaching their promised Canaan as soon as they should have, I’ve had dues to pay as a result of my approach to life.
I realise though, it isn’t only my successes in life that will make me a better person. Those pebbles that people were supposed to someday point to as the ones that eventually sucked the stubborn life out of me, may indeed be the ones to elevate me to reach the heights I long for. So for that reason my time report features no hours dedicated to babysitting regrets.
So this is the story of my life. I have interests spanning philosophy, mathematics, economics, music and even literature. I must confess the last two seem to cloud all the others. My love for fine music is second only to my penchant for writing some really thought provoking pieces when I do get the rather elusive inspiration.
I can be jamming to the sounds of Andeas Vollenweider’s harp, but at other times Earl Klugh, Black Coffee and Zakes Bantwini just provide much better company. Admittedly my patience has let me down in my efforts to learning how to play a musical instrument. I actually do sing along to some of the music, and believe me; you’d wonder why it is that I chose consulting instead.
When it comes to books, I keep referring to George Orwell’s Animal Farm as one the finest pieces of literature one ever could lay their hands on. I’ve read and re-read it a few times. I just think it’s stuff of genius. I’ve also enjoyed Chenua Achebe’s books, and I think Zakes Mda is really hilarious.
So if I’m not sampling music or reading a good book what will I be doing? You most probably will find me on the soccer pitch on a Saturday afternoon doing my thing. This means I’m not entirely ignorant when I shout out instructions from the comfort of my couch.
You can also find me at church. And this is where I draw much of my inspiration. My faith in God sustains me.
One question I still do ask myself is this: With the benefit of hindsight, would I do things differently? Another question then follows naturally from that, could I have the benefit of hindsight and remain the same person? Then the economics student in me comes to life, ceteris paribus, I certainly would tweak a few things. But then I realise that it is a combination of the successes and downfalls I’ve had that continue to shape my character. And would I trade that for anything else? I doubt it!
One of the greatest men to have walked this planet earth in my opinion, Martin Luther King JR, said something quite profound: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” During load shedding, it takes quite a leap of faith to go onto the staircase and find the torch in your own house but I suppose it would take even greater faith to go find that torch when you’re visiting. And mine has been a journey spent visiting. I have had to take great leaps of faith and will hopefully eventually get to the torch. After all, just as King would again quip and this is an idea I’ve held onto for a number of years: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
You see, the stance you take in life comes naturally with its own repercussions. You know what they say about being in the kitchen. I mean when in a bathroom…especially a public one, you can’t call the bomb squad if you should hear what genuinely sounds like the nuclear bombs that brought down Hiroshima and Nagasaki …even if you inhale fumes of what you’d be convinced is a weapon of mass destruction.
So mine has been a life where I have learnt that when I’m at the Mountain top I need to pray for my time in the valley too, and that ladies and gentlemen has made a world of difference.
To borrow again from Robert Frost,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged, and I –
Took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.