The bitten apple

The first time I saw something pornographic, it was an old magazine called Life Seen, secretly passed around the boys dormitory as we hankered over starred genitals like Amish boys seeing a woman’s bare limb. 

It was impersonal, black and white newspaper print with a coloured insert at the middle, where the publisher tried to blur out the graphic imagery.

One time during holiday recess we dared to a cybercafé to see more graphic and colored images on the internet. Those days you paid Kes10 a minute and spent it looking at pixelated images buffer for ages. 

So we pooled our ten bobs together, and huddled over those huge white desktops, fat at the back; at this cyber that had cubicles and a curtain for private browsing. Our time ran out as we frustrated over betting site pop ups, pay walls and links that bounced us from website to website in the rabbit hole of internet pornography and advertisement. 

The internet, was late to come into Kenya largely due to restrictive political regime of the then President Daniel Moi. I remember as a child from the border of Busia discovering Ugandans had, hand-held mobile phones before us.

The Moi era had seen Kenya lag so far that by the time he exited his repressive 24-year rule in 2002 Kenya had just two mobile phones for every 100 of its 38 million people; today there are 123 phones for every one hundred people.

While mobile technology lagged, and so did fast internet; that promised to bring the good transformative technology that would expand the economy rapidly, but that would also turn to consume the society with its dark side.

Kenya’s fast internet infrastructure lagged the world’s with the undersea cables that propelled East Africa’s largest economy landing in Mombasa in 2009 during President Mwai Kibaki’s term to replace the more expensive and unstable satellite internet links.

When mobile phones came into the fray little over three decades ago they were not evolved enough as channels of visual media that young people know today. Keypads had three characters each and you could not type as fast; and communication was only two-way, and the only breakthrough for social media was something called a chat room.

A chat room was where you signed up to the internet to type something into the void of a screen and have someone with a weird name reply. When chat rooms moved into mobile phones, the closest we were to social media of today, was a black screen and coloured text application called 2Go; where we flooded into large chat rooms and said lewd things. It felt like a hall or a market where we shouted into the abyss, and it was always almost thrilling pleasure to find someone we knew in those chat rooms reading our otherwise silent notoriety.

The idea that the internet could be on the palm of our hands is just thirteen years old when the first smart phones landed in Nairobi. Hence the content, trends and pornography have been determined by the 60 percent of the population over the age of fifteen.

It is this legacy that we bestow upon the frail minds of the future and yet we have no idea how the dark side of the powerful internet will impact them. Toddlers get their first screen time through coco melon feeding and explicit Nigerian songs as advertisement in between.

They get handed mobile phone and tablets immediately they learn to bother busy parents and as soon after they set up their social media accounts, getting unrestricted access to the porno snake pit that opens up wide enough to swallow them whole.

So how does a generation of Kenyan parents, who grew up without mobile phones, police the internet for the 39 percent of the population born after the first android smartphone came into the country?

Kenya’s opinions are more likely conservative where official data shows that the majority, 85.5 percent are Christians, and there is a strong moral push against pornography. This opinion is likely to filter back into legislation to outlaw possession and distribution of pornographic material.

Kenya’s Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes (Amendment) Bill, 2021 is one such attempt to make sharing of pornography an offence punishable by either a 25-year-jail term, a Kes20 million fine.

Read also: Kenya in rush to check out trashy TikTok amid global bans

But in the computer era such religious and legal edicts rarely work. America, as far back as 1995 when Jim Exon, a 74-year-old Democrat from Nebraska led congress in prayers and in passing the Communications Decency Act to cover computer porn has not dented the industry. Despite the regulation, there has simply been no way to stop the flood of porn online, let alone determine or enforce the age of consumers.

Pornography, like prostitution, is one of those shadows, humanity has to drag along itself. No legal or religious dictums have been able to stop the fascination we have for it. Humans since the days of cave paintings have illustrated the nude and no sanctions since the days of the Romans could keep the likes of Pietro Aretino  from producing such works and it would be self deception to imagine an end to it on the vastness of the internet.

Before the internet access to pornography was very limited, bulky magazines, a physical tape or compact disc that was simply the easiest way to get caught given the family shared the one entertainment unit. But generally access was not as easy for such a taboo thing.

Today everyone has their own mobile phones which are difficult to monitor and filter the sexualized content has been normalized and is very easily accessible via the internet.

And it is not just a harmless pastime, America’s Franciscan University study found that compulsive pornography use significantly affected university students with a huge section of them experiencing severe or extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress. 

The internet has also fueled sharing of intimate photos that later get leaked in publicly by slighted former lovers as revenge porn or hacked and used by extortionist to blackmail people.

While our age experienced pornography as impersonal, even censored magazines, in a few years from now, I would imagine, our children would be looking at a leaked video(s) of their parent’s nudes.

Internet porn in Brother Ali’s Bitten Apple is just that, our deepest darkest desires like we were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As he raps, inside your pocket lies a portal to your inner battle; Children of Adam still grappling with that bitten apple.

But this time, our deepest darkest secrets open to an internet technology out to tap our most vulnerable moments in browser histories to create an insidious feedback loop and a path to addiction and mental health issues.

Worse still as he raps further, he reminds us that there is no innocence in this business we have been the demand that has created the ugliest sides of the internet. We are the reason why porn has been getting savager; Box office movies nastier, the TV get trashier.

A research by Semrush on Google metrics show that three pornographic websites rank among the top most visited sites in Kenya. And that we spend on average 13 minutes every visit, checking at least seven pages in order to find a suitable video.  

This Brother Ali warns has inevitably led to a young generation who have no taboo around sex and cannot understand how it is different from expression of intimacy. As he raps, Schoolgirls are flashing the camera; Profile pic look just like the next amateur.

Exchange of nude photos is common practice in relationships today but so has the country caught onto the global demand for pornography creating content for platforms such as Onlyfans. Social media demand for videos like Tik Tok has also created a stream of ‘late hour raw live shows’ where the very young feed their lewd into the internet for followers and cash prices.

It is not yet clear what the impact of technology will eventually bear upon the children born into the age of information.

The real challenge, however, is the personal intimate shame that no matter what brave face we put up, we will forever feel having to explain to our children why they will have to live with the memory of our organs scarred into their minds.

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