The latest episode of a Swahili podcast I’ve been listening to, ‘Things to do to succeed financially’ is called ‘Announce your war on debt’. In it, life coach Luphurise Mawere gives some advice about how to use social media.
She warns that your Instagram or Facebook ought not to show the difficult things in your life. Do not use it to complain about about your debts or how people don’t understand you. This is shameful and, even worse, it is using social media to advertise your shame. Instead, use it to declare your intention to build a better life.
In my culture, there is a big push towards using social media for authenticity. We are conscious that a curated space such as social media often only shows the good bits and sanitises or omits the harder parts of life. Scrolling on social media, it’s easy to feel inadequate next to others’ rosy lives and so we appreciate those who go against this trend by #keepingitreal. It makes us feel a little better about our own mundane or disordered lives to know that we are not the only ones. That validation and solidarity helps us to press on instead of falling into despair.
In my culture, social media is an extension of the self, so we are focused on using it to describe or talk about life as it is. The discussion about authenticity comes about because we feel there’s been a dishonesty here that needs to be addressed.
But for Tanzanians, social media is a tool to be used to improve one’s life. Words are powerful. Description is never just description; you are always speaking something into being. It’s important to be aspirational in your online presence, not because this shows your authentic self but because it is the start of creating the reality you want to live into. If you use your social media to talk about your hardships, it’s like saying that’s what you want to continue. If you use it to declare who you want to be, that’s what you are bringing about.
When Tanzanians sing in church “I am rich, I am prosperous” or “I’m born a winner” they are not so much speaking truth as creating truth. Social media is to be used in the same way. This is why people use their social media to say things that would sound inflated if I said them, things like “Happy birthday to me, I am so amazing and talented”. They’re not describing reality as it is; they’re speaking the reality they want to live into. This is also why sharing pictures of outrageously decorated homes is something of a community service; it gives something to aspire to.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.