Internet, living longer, economic independence....
There might be some other things, but those three are the biggest contributors to a life of misery suffocating people of all ages in rich countries. Why is this terrifying? Because young people have been added to the equation.
Great literature of the past has tales of such misery. Famous campaigner for children’s rights in the 19th century, British writer, Charles Dickens who published at least 15 novels, short stories and other journalistic sagas, wrote “Oliver Twist” – which is used to teach English around the globe including East Africa. Listen to this quote from the classic novel:
“The boy was lying , fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor; so pale with anxiety , and sadness, and the closeness of his prison that he looked like death, not death as it shows in shroud and coffin, but in the guise it wears when life has just departed...”
Young people described in the 18 and 19-century world of Dickens novels and stories experienced suffering, poverty and loneliness. Back then, life for kids was akin to poor developing countries of the twenty first century. Young people not having enough to eat. Young kids abandoned to live in streets because the parents died of HIV, etc. Certainly. Wretchedness caused by material deprivation.
However, what we want to highlight here now is also distress and loneliness by people who have houses, families, education and money. Well off but depressed, sad; still lonely.
Yes, I have seen a lot since I started living overseas. Even now; several years later.
I still feel bewildered when I hear of individuals who have become very sick after the death of their cat or dog. Such folks do feel lonely because they have no one to talk to, no one to share their meals and money. No one to share love.
Therefore, and consequently, a domestic animal is considered the best option for love. Sometimes families with many people will still keep an animal that eventually is accepted as a blood relative. And offence shall be caused if you do not acknowledge their presence.
So what causes this substitute for human warmth?
I always like to recount a speech by the former Labour government Minister, Ms Claire Short. She was addressing a dinner event of the UK Tanzania Business group in London in 2004. She had been Minister for International Co-operation and through her position; she had travelled to Africa many times. She spoke highly of Mwalimu Nyerere and the Tanzania model. Just like a few other cabinet members of the Labour party during those days. As a young man, Tony Blair’s colleague, Peter Mandelson for example had even worked as young socialist volunteers in Tanzania. Mr Mandelson later admitted that it was an excellent experience...
Ms Claire Short branched out of the politics of government and shared her view of the character of Africans. Normally most leaders just talk of African poverty. Ms Short nonetheless, enriched her audience with the fact that she admired traditions of Africans: dignity, discipline and respect for elders. This respect for older people is still very strong in Africa; it has vanished in rich countries, she insisted. Elders are not respected it is true. For example, you do not have the equivalent of “Shikamoo” in most European languages.
Since people have longer lives - reaching 80 to 90 years on average instead of 40 to 60 like in poor countries- you find many Wazee trekking alone. As they go on, things get very bleak when a spouse dies leaving the mate sad and lonely. The only way forward is for these Wazee to be cared for by professionals- usually nurses or part time carers. Some of them really abuse the elderly folks and the mistreatment has become a big subject matter in recent times.
But it is the growing depression and loneliness of young professionals and teenagers that is even more mind wracking. One reason is the growth of the internet and social media. Unlike those of us who grew up interacting through talking, dancing and meeting up, young people use their gadgets to chat even find love.
As a result, most become detached from reality. How can you be happy through showing your pictures on Facebook? Is this real? What about if these Facebook pictures do not match your actual reality? That you have no- one. The whole circus is superficial and some are walking zombies with nothing but cigarettes, drugs, booze and computer gadgets.
Society has changed so much. No wonder you see people in streets, not talking but busy into their glass gadgets, texting, smiling to small screens, taking photos of themselves (“Selfies”) and always, solo. Going home alone to TV screens and more cyber interactions. A world of superficiality and technological clouds.
Appeared in Citizen Tanzania 29 January 2016.