The future is on the line: Trends that have got 2.5 billion people hooked

The evening of Sunday, June 1st, 2008 was most likely a slightly blue twilight for many a fun-loving Pulser between the ages of 19 and 35. Blue, because the next day was a Monday.

And not just any Monday, but the Monday after a Madaraka Day holiday.

Which would have meant a long weekend, most likely out of town, with a bit of booze, lots of fun, and so the downer that inevitably comes when the fun is done (and the cash burnt).

This writer remembers that weekend as one where a bunch of urban soccer-loving hooligans called ‘Mafans’ and myself did a weekend goat party at Ole Polos, to celebrate the end of the EPL (English Premier League) season and mark the CL (Champions’ League) grand finale in Moscow (fought between Manchester United and Chelsea FC that year).

Of course to go to Ole Polos, all the organisation by ‘Mafans’ was done through mobile phone calls – the traditional landline and phone poles having gone the way of obsolete stuff like the typewriter and music cassettes from the 1980s, by June 1st, 2008 (never mind that 80s style berets are back in vogue, and Prince’s Raspberry Beret with its ‘she walked in through the out- door, she wore a raspberry beret/ the kind you find in a second hand store’ is ever perennial, even to the millennial).

Yet just ten years ago, on June 1st, 2008, ‘trend’ was a noun associated with the general tendency of events, fashion or opinion, while ‘hash tag’ was like ‘puff, puff, pass’ – smoking cannabis resin, or ‘blowing the bong,’ then passing it on to the next consumer. Ten years down the line, the non-continuous verb ‘to trend’ is now a thing – ‘trending’ – meaning to go viral and be a big topic on the worldwide web.

‘Trending,’ being a present participle, may itself be the only present continuous tense in the English language that is derived from a non-continuous tense, that is, ‘to trend’.

When we now speak of things going ‘viral’, we usually mean something becoming popular or infamous very fast, thanks to high person-to-person circulation on the Internet.

Ten years ago, it would have meant the fear of a real-life virus like the Ebola one detected (on May 8, 2018) in Bikoro, the Province of Equateur, DRC, getting into the mainland population of a port city like Mbandaka, and becoming regional by this Madaraka Day (as happened five years ago in West Africa when Ebola ‘went viral’ in the population, and by the time the outbreak was declared ended on May 8, 2016, it had gone with 11,310 souls, mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone).

Now any amateur, even in that province of Equateur, can make a video on their phone, upload it on YouTube, and by evening, it has spread across the continent, and is a big hit in Equatorial Guinea, a thousand kilometres away.

Of course ‘to trend’ on video is easier said than done (unless the attention is unwanted, like when a Deputy Governor was allegedly busted with a big boobed lady in a Kakamega nusu-slipper motel). Almost five hours of video are uploaded onto YouTube per second, and 80 per cent of human beings on earth (between the ages of 18 to 50) will log into YouTube at least once a month.

Which would explain the fame and fortune of a global YouTube celebrity like one PewDewPie (Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) who has 60 million subscribers on the channel, earning him a cool $12 million (Sh1.2 billion) in 2017 (or twenty pop per subscriber) – yet all the dude does is play video games as a box at the corner captures his reactions, as well as boisterous comments. This is because the number of gamers is now estimated to be 2 billion worldwide.

Which just goes to show how playing games is moving from what kids used to do outside, to what even adults now do online in the house (and even their work stations) – on phones, Play Stations and X Boxes, including in Kenya.

Needless to say, say in 1998, it would have been very hard to play any game – other than ‘Petty Theft – Coins’ – in those pay phones outside Nyayo House.

Of course it is not just YouTube that the youth of today have to watch, or ‘push’ their brand on the net, including pornography and various videos of perversion.

Thanks to smartphones and what used to be called ‘peer-pressure’ (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), sexuality, including Internet exhibitionism and video voyeurism, have become much more common than was the norm 10 years ago.

To paraphrase the recently demised author and journalist Tom Wolfe ( not to be mistaken with the local Kenyan pollster mzungu, who is very much alive and ready to tell the numbers about 2022) – ‘a twenty-two year-old college student will sit in front of a computer for six hours at a stretch,’ and ‘nothing the GF can offer him in the way of food or sexual delights can compare with the palm-piloting he does night and day,’ logged in and locked into these images.

“The clients I’m dealing with today are unrecognisable to the ones I was dealing with ten years ago,” a sex therapist told Pulse. “These ones, especially from the younger generation, exhibit compulsive addictive behaviour, and want to learn how to recreate experiences from porn.”

Which is all a lifetime away from when Yahoo! ruled the roost, ten years ago, and ‘Googlegroups’ were the ‘WhatsApp’ of how we shared the PEV experience online (before that other famous ‘handshake’ on the steps of Harambee House, on February 28, 2008).

Fast forward three months later, to Sunday, June 1, 2008.

Facebook had barely quarter a million Kenyans on it; now it has exponentially grown to over twenty times that number (with more than 5 million FB account holders), and attracting adverts.

Bloggers were the hot new kids on the block, now every other lady and bloke is on Instagram – with more than two million Kenyans posting their pics (for comments) on this medium.

Even more far out is Snapchat, where peeps put their snaps up, often with features enhanced by the technology, which shortly after disintegrates like something from a spy movie involving Russians (Atomic Blonde comes to mind). LinkedIn is where serious professionals connect.

We now have the new Short Form Messages (SMS was so 2008) in the form of tweeting (with world class twits like Donald Trump even threatening wars versus North Korea on Twitter). And if one just wants a “random lay after a long dry spell that makes Turkana look like monsoons in Myanmar,” as comedian Ciku Waithaka puts it, the word up is you get the Tinder App.

Then, in the same way that Saint Peter will separate the sheep (heaven) and goats (hell bound) on the Last Day, you swipe left or right.