Social Media Week Lagos: The Future is Here

The present belongs to the 3310s, movie franchise returns, super hero remakes, and longing for a world that used to be. The nostalgic reappearance of Nokia’s metusalah phone has been met with the adoration of a generation that entered the mobile age through the durable-bodies of that never-breaking brick. And if impressions are bankable, Nokia has already found a money-maker. The world has run out of novel ways to entertain itself and now repackages tired narratives for a new audience.  As the 2017 Social Media Week Lagos openned with thoughts about the Future of Media, the conversations were guided by the rules of this world where the resurrection of a long-beloved feature phone with limited functionality, but high sentimental value, is a victory.

Social media platforms have transformed from the gatherings of the cool kids, to ubiquitous communication tools, to legitimate creative outlets. The centre of their functionalities have, however, remained the same: stories. This is why an executive in CNN, a popular blogger, and the creators of online content platforms can sit down together to talk about the future of media. The future is the past. It is about finding stories that connect with an audience, and the best ways to establish that connection. It is the town crier hitting a gong as he marches through the village square, whole communities gathered around a transistor radio, kids watching wrestling on televisions by the road side in Oshodi, an image of people with eyes fixed in their VR headsets as Mark Zuckerberg marches beside them.

The future is mobile

“The future is mobile,” said Oibi Asika, co-founder of Social Media Week Lagos in the final panel of the opening day of the 2017 conference, and no one mistook this mobility for movement. There was a time when the image of someone tethered to a phone conjured laziness, but now our workstations are in our palms. As the panel discussions at the first day of the week unfolded, there were bloggers punching out blog posts in real time, adding images to text, and creating live videos.

The name of Emmanuela—of this-is-not-my-real-face-o fame—was evoked multiple times during these panels. Her story, and that of Mark Angel Comedy, her publisher, is one that has been made possible by the wonders of the mobile revolution. Anyone who wants to tell stories now has to find ways to either deliver them to our palms—the way bloggers like Sisi Yemmie, one of the panelists of the day does—or invite us from those palms to visit physical structures—like Bolanle Austen-Peters does for her theatre productions, and Mo Abudu with her films like The Wedding Party, which has become the best-performing film in Nigerian cinema history.

Zain Verjee, Co-founder, aKoma and Obi Asika, Co-founder, Social Media Week Lagos. Image: Hamed Adedeji

The future is Africa

Pierre Cherruau, journalist and former African editor for Slate, shared an anecdote on stage of bringing his daughter to Lagos for the first time and her classmates in France crying because they thought their friend was was going to get kidnapped in the land of Boko Haram. Anyone who has watched recent movies about Lagos and seen how its full of picturesque bridges, glitzy parties, and budding hipsters—almost to a fault— knows we’re as far from insurgency in our minds as the folks in France, heck we have stood with Paris more than we stand with our own. But none of this matters to the imaginations of people all over the world whose only window to our lives are the narratives delivered to their screens.

There was a time when we would blame harmful stereotypes like this on media outlets like CNN. But there are Nigerian movies on Netflix now, life style shows and miniseries on Youtube, and short stories on blogs. The world knows that Africa is where the stories are. And those who are interested in Nigeria and Africa can now get an authentic image of what’s happening on the ground, daily. The question that now is how the stories created by innovative artists and entrepreneurs travel beyond the small confines of their social circles. And, more importantly, how do we—Nigerians, Africans—own the infrastructure for the distribution of these stories? 

The future belongs to us

Two seats beside me at the second panel in the Innovation Stage, a young man sat with a bag of books on his laps. A few decades ago, books were the primary modes of telling our stories to the world. But now it’s our music, our film, our plays, our art and our blogs. And central to the delivery of these things are social media platforms. Now that we have the means of bypassing previously restrictive gate-keepers to share our authentic lives with audiences all over the world, we can reclaim the narratives. This is why social media week isn’t really about social media, but about stories and their ownership.

Now, we can show the world the beauty in the mundane Nigerian life, share our exuberant joys and melodramatic woes, and remake tales of legends past and present. These stories aren’t new, but the tools of their telling and distribution have changed. And going by the success of recent storytelling ventures that have harnessed the power inherent in reaching your audience in an instant, any where around the world, the old stories we’ve told in sitting rooms, local television, and chat messaging channels can now be packaged, and marketed to the far corners the globe. The the past is present, the future is now, and it is profitable.

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