Dont Waste The Audience

This week I’ve been thinking about Wambui Kamiru Collymore, widow of the late Bob Collymore, CEO of Kenyan media telco Safaricom until his death in July 2019. “I am not the news,” Wambui had to announce on Twitter this week, after a news article found it useful to let Kenyans know that her late husband had left “all his wealth” to her. 

I loved her thread (you can read it here), not just for its grace in taking down the thinly-veiled voyeurism of the article, but mostly because she amplified the kinds of stories that, in her words, “don’t waste the audience” – stories that not only highlight Kenyan ingenuity and achievement, but also raise the important questions that would make us critique social inequality and injustice. “The media can raise consciousness,” she said, “[and] can fulfil the greatest role in redirecting our country from the bleak future that we are hurrying toward.”

I read this the same day I was watching The Social Dilemma, a Netflix documentary featuring leading figures in Silicon Valley who reveal that addiction, toxicity and privacy breaches are in-built, deliberate features of social media as we know it today. Many of them regret their role in designing social apps in this way  – initially believing they were just doing their job, or even contributing to uncontroversially good outcomes like “connection”, unable to see the bigger picture until it was too late.

Wambui Collymore’s thread and this documentary both have me thinking about the human decisions that result in our media diet in this country often being so thin and malnourishing – succeeding only in holding our attention for a little while, but even then, for no good reason. But these decisions, far from being merely frivolous, end up having real social consequences, the greatest of which at the moment is an insidious fatigue, exasperation and emptiness, the feeling of being both battered with information and bereft of meaning, all motion with no movement. It is death by a thousand small cuts.

 

I would instead like to take up Wambui Collymore’s challenge, imagining a world where stories can be both interesting and enriching. She tagged her tweets #StoriesIWantToRead, and you can join in too, sharing your views on what kinds of stories you would want to read. We don’t have to settle for what there is on offer, nothing is inevitable, nothing has to be the way it is. And as Wambui said, we don’t have time to waste.

Yours in solidarity,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab


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