Malawian University Students and Social Networks: Does Facebook and Whatsapp Usage Alter Studies?

The Medium is the message – Marshal McLuhan

In his prophetic writing, Marshal McLuhan, a Canadian theorist foresaw that technological inventions would bring the corners of the world together by creating what he called the global village. To him, every technology extended human beings, you can talk of automobiles, shoes, and the telegraph just to mention but a few.  We are now in the 21st century, the internet age, as some have proudly called it where communication has been relegated to the gadget.

There has been a boom in the technological inventions that facilitates communication, and at the helm of it there is the internet and its Social Networks (SNs). A lot has been said, and there is still a mountain of exploding arguments yet to invade us.

“Are you on Whatsapp?”  This is one of the recurring question that many college students treading the corridors, meet on discussions, class lectures, church gatherings have been answering. Of course the one asking expects you to be there, with all these subsidised gadgets, some nameless, even a remote farmer communicates with potential buyers on Whatsapp.

In a research at Khartoum University in Sudan, it was established that 93.1% students used Facebook and other social networks. Despite rendering a forum for alleviating education morale, 87.9% confessed that SNs negatively affected their concentration during academic activities. Back in 2011, at a certain institution in Nigeria about 32% users were negatively affected. I am not interested in figures and numbers, I seek to explore if Facebook and Whatsapp alter studies among Malawian University students.

A student relaxing in her gadget during studies
A student relaxing on her gadget during studies

Enerst Phiri, a third year Bachelor of Science student at Chancellor College says that SNs used to distort his studies. Although this is not the case for him today. Codwell Chisale, a Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery second year student at College of Medicine has a case familiar to that of Enerst. “It used to compromise my timetable, say I have planned to start studying at 8 pm, I would procrastinate to 9pm”. At times Codwell would have sleepless nights which culminated into dozing in the course of class activities.

However, a Bachelor of Arts in Theology student acknowledges the side effects that SNs have on her studies. “They affect my studies more than anything because I spend much time on them especially when something interesting happens such as death of a celebrity”, she continues “when Grace Chinga died I spent the whole day on Facebook and Whatsapp, forgetting that I had an exam the following day”. Peter Chirenga, a Communication student finds himself in such a predicament, and he says: “I fail to finish what I planned to study for that day when I am online during the studying hours.”

There are numerous students who do not get affected when using these SNs. Christina Kumala, a Forestry student at Mzuzu University explains that she doesn’t get affected with it. “I go online to check if there any messages when I feel like I have nothing to do.” Konala says “My friends and I are able to hold discussions on certain class assignments on Whatsapp, Lectures are able to communicate urgent notifications to the whole class and I recall missing a make-up class when I had no smartphone”, Davie James Konala, a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education student at Luanar – Bunda campus. “It actually facilitates my studies because it’s where interactions are shared easily” explains Lyiandra Phiri, a student at Chanco. From their views we can also say SNs are innocent.

We can see that there are a number of benefits and also a huge number of negative effects of using SNs among college students. Most students who were previously victims have developed ways of managing the time spent on SNs. Some students are of the view that it is good to have a timetable on when to be online and when not to be. Codwell advises fellow students to switch off data connection when engaging in any academic tasks.

Should we then dwell on when to be online or what to do when we are online? Perhaps we should question ourselves on what we do when we are online. In this global village, whether it is really a global village or just a linguistic term that has been coined to advance certain ideologies, it is hard to dismiss the chaotic nature of technological inventions. But it is up to us to embrace the tools we have shaped and try to make sure that they do not negatively shape us.

 

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