Technological determinism theory
The shift to digital technology is envisaged in technological determinism theory. This theory assumes that technology defines the development of social values and structure in a society. It details the transformative impact of technology from the tribal to the literate era, and from the print to the electronic age (Griffin 2010). The theory' interrogates how and the degree to which technological factors depict human beliefs or actions. Proponents of technological determinism posit that transformation in technology is the overarching source for change in society. Marshal McLuhan (1964) suggests that media determinism, a form of technological determinism, shapes how individuals in a society think, feel and act, and how society operates as it moves from one technological age to another. In his 1964 seminal work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan posits that ‘the medium is the message’. In other words, the medium is a more influential and unequivocal determinant of human interaction and action than is the content or the message. This suggests that the medium shapes and controls ‘the scale and form of human association and action’ (McLuhan 1964, 9).
However, critiques of technological determinism hold that technology' at no time imposes itself on people. On the contrary', technology was made by people, and people choose to use it the way it suits them. For example, when television was invented, it was a deliberate choice by people to view it. There was no obligation on the part of the technology' to compel individuals to use it. Without question, the technology' requires people to participate or involve themselves at some point or another, however, the choice of using the technology and experiencing its effects lies in the hand of human beings. Some scholars hold that technology itself is socially determined such that technology and social structures co-evolve in a non-deterministic, emergent process. In other words, the effects of any given technology' depend mainly on how it is implemented (Adler 2006).
While digital technologies hold great potential for indigenous language newspapers, the responsibility to use the technology lies with the journalist. Technological determinism theory is relevant in this work in that it helps to explain how technology - in this case, digital media - influences human thoughts and actions. Technology is seen as the dynamic force of culture in a society'. The newspaper industry' is no exception, as the traditional method of generating, producing
The future of indigenous language press 147 and distributing news is giving way to digital approaches. The future of journalism is being shaped by the convergence of technology and societal shifts. New media are not only an addition to existing media but also new technologies, and therefore have a deterministic factor as well.
Implications of the shift to digital media
The media industry has witnessed a rapid change due largely to the emergence of digital media. As of January 2019, there were over 113 million internet subscribers on GSM-enabled networks in Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Communication Commission (2019). With smartphones and other internet-enabled devices, people can easily access a plethora of information, including newspaper content (Nwachukwu and Onyenankeya 2017). Many Nigerians, including readers of indigenous language newspapers, are increasingly migrating to social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, to access news. Empirical studies show that many newspaper readers prefer the free online version they can access through the internet (Ekhareafo et al. 2013; Hassan and Azmi 2018; Mathew, Ogedebe, and Adeniji 2013). The migration to social media implicates production and distribution of indigenous newspapers.
As has been noted, ‘whenever and wherever individuals and groups deploy and communicate with digital media, there will be circulations, reimaginings, magnifications, deletions, translations, revisionings and remakings of a range of cultural representations, experiences and identities’ (Coleman 2010, 488). This is even critical for a language that is embedded in the culture.
The traditional English language newspapers have long gone digital and have developed strategies to drive traffic to their sites. They are faced with the challenge of how to design a webpage that is compatible with social media and accommodates the taste of the target audience, especially the upwardly mobile youths who are very active in social media. It requires creativity to design the appropriate tools to generate and sustain traffic to the newspaper’s site. What media content - images, videos and sounds - could be deployed to enliven readership without losing the symbolism embedded in the indigenous language? Proponents of digital media appear to focus on its functionality, especially in providing a broad range of accessible information; not much attention is paid to ‘the symbolic or persuasive aspects of digital media, of the emotional dimensions of our uses and interpretations of these media’ (Buckingham 2015).
To leverage digital media for producing and communicating information in indigenous language demands a high level of literacy. According to Buckingham (2015), ‘a truly literate individual is able not only to use language but also to understand how it works’ (26). As highlighted earlier, literacy in indigenous languages has experienced a nosedive. For indigenous language newspapers to make a success of online publishing, they must have personnel who not only are skilled in the syntax of the local language but also possess ‘analytical skills, and a meta-language for describing how language functions ... how digital media are constructed, and of the unique rhetorics of interactive communication’ (Buckingham 2015, 26);
of course, this is in addition to possessing digital literacy, including how websites are constructed and managed (Burbules and Callister 2000) and, more importantly, the ability to remediate textual and symbolic expressions. This requires technology-sawy personnel to implement.