“[G]ive her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.”
“‘The poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog’s chance… a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.’ That is it. Intellectual freedom depends upon material things.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
I loved a lot of our sessions at AfriSIG this year. Some of them were topics I was rather familiar with, the effectiveness of multistakeholderism and the internet gender gap, for instance.
One morning, two days before the end of the programme, we were having an early morning discussion about access to the internet and how various structural and infrastructural barriers prevented many Africans today from being able to access the internet and how precarious the entire situation was.
The conversation then listed to, I suppose, productivity and sensible uses of what access we do have, with one of the fellows lamenting that even when young people did have access to the internet, it was frequently misused, with employees at the office downloading movies and playing games rather than other more enriching activities. This, he noted, had led to internet access at his place of work being limited to the technical team.
I thought about the subjectivity of the term “productive” and the creative value of play and privately disagreed.
For a while, I’d been thinking about the non-existent nature of our relationship with science fiction and fantasy and what that said about the way we view technology, our relationship with it, the influence we have on it and its influence on us. I’ve become rather convinced that we see technology, and by extension, the internet, merely as a tool, and a foreign one at that.
But this lack of familiarity sort of implies an antecedent absence of mastery. Is productivity limited to the carrying out of tasks to fulfil a corporate end, through a computer, the tool, through a predetermined, pre-programmed process?
When I was little, I loved playing mobile games. I would run off with my parents’ Nokia phones and play Snake 2 and Space Impact for hours. I credit these experiences with my love for and familiarity with technology today. I understood phones to be not just tools, but portals for escapism and play.
Early child development researchers today tell us that play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. The benefits do not diminish for adults, as play contributes to stress relief and creativity.
Today, we talk about digital literacy and online schools and courses and tutorials, but very little about games. The ability to type on a QWERTY keyboard, whether on a mobile device or a laptop, through long-term familiarity because of games and chatting, for instance. Or the ability to design a PowerPoint with clouds and stars and anecdotes about friends and family. Or the ability to play Mortal Kombat or PES without glancing at your gamepad. But these seemingly time-wasting activities result in hand-eye coordination, an interest in software development and engineering, cyber spaces, virtual and extended reality worlds, fascinations and skills borne from familiarity with these tools, which have laid a foundation for mastery.
It is undeniable that our world today is a digital one. The online considerably overlaps with the offline to the extent that it might just no longer be possible for there to be offline spaces anymore eventually.
It is this world that young Africans are navigating today. Perhaps our play, our natural gravitation towards games, social media and movies, is our way of expressing our desire for mastery, and ultimately our claim on the internet.
Maybe “productivity” is a myth born of scarcity and finite resources. A myth we need to reject. Maybe we need bigger sandboxes. Bigger playgrounds. Roomier rooms.
Favour Borokini is a Nigerian lawyer and technology policy researcher. Favour is passionate about responsible and beneficial uses of technology and how it affects the lives of women and social injustice and inequality. She’s also interested in how the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world is being (re)defined by technology. For fun, she enjoys reading fanfiction in addition to romance and fantasy and the occasional detective novel. Fancying herself something of a writer, Favour daydreams about writing relatable contemporary Nigerian fiction and sci-fi and technology utopias.