Social Media and the Long View

After waxing poetic on all the virtuous characteristics of our wired generation – our tendencies for openness, collaboration, horizontal power structures, interactiveness, and collectivism – the Herrera article briefly mentions a parallel body of work, which points to some of the downsides of having access to the Internet 24/7. Members of our generation tend to exhibit a short attention span, a unwillingness to read or think deeply, and a preference for instant gratification. Of course, these developments are only natural: with more and more entertainment and information options competing for our eyeballs, it would make sense that our attention would flit between these channels quickly, in an attempt to absorb as much as possible.

However, the dangerous side of our new inattentiveness seems to rear its ugly head in the aftermath of Mubarak’s dethronement. While social media was no doubt instrumental in the toppling of his thirty-year regime, the limitations of the medium became abundantly clear when the time for long-term strategizing came around. Social-media based activism lends itself to short-term single-issue campaigns, but seems to flounder when the time comes for sustained deliberation, organization, and leadership. As a result, Egypt’s wired generation have yet to develop a long-term plan for saving their country from economic and social instability. As of now, Egypt is in its worst economic crisis in history. In just the last month, the value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted to record lows. While it is not clear who or what is to blame for this, the need for an educational system that can teach Egypt’s youth how power and counterpower operate is critical to the success of the country: the Internet itself has failed in this educational capacity. In the absence of this endeavor, the future of the country will remain extremely uncertain. Has social media rewired our brains so much that we are incapable of this long term planning? Or has it simply uncovered a deficiency that was always there, only to be remedied by proper education?

Digital Education Evolution

The Harvard Educational Review provided some insight as to the wired members of this global generation. Are they achieving “actuality” as identified by Mannheim in the text? There seems to be this approach to digital media that is critical in leaning towards a quick analysis as it if it is working to create  real political and social change. These movements are so complicated that I suggest it is evolution …the civil rights movement and woman’s rights movements are still in motion we would be remiss to study them as having achieved “actuality”. Clearly, any real chang socially and politically requires steps that could take decades or centuries ,sadly. This is the part of the process that is difficult for a generation wired with the speed and interactive power of digital media.

The opening frontiers and cultural revolutions phases point to the speed with which knowledge and cultural/ political insight are gained. Although, very impressive as a tool, in real world as opposed to digital time the impacts of revolution are much more constricted. With the 180 degree change in personality identified by Haisam comes the price of    cultural imperialism, as the majority of his knowledge was based on western movies and cultural…is this a good thing?

On, the articles detailing the Shura Council case and the No Military Trails for Civilians movement pierce right to the heart of the issue of inequality in today’s Egypt. Whereas Herrera’s article detailed the evolution of the “wired generation” in the past two decades and how it contributed to the earlier revolts and the ousting of Mubarak, the articles about the Shura Council case give insight into the corruption that lingered in Egypt even after Mubarak’s ousting.

I could list the egregious civil rights crimes committed by the Egyptian government against its own citizens, but it’s shorter to instead start with the fact that many citizens are  being tried and convicted in military courts, because it explains how the government gets away with every other crime against its own citizens. First of all, to try a civilian in a military court is a huge civil rights violation in itself. The US equivalents are the people held at Guantanamo Bay, stuck in limbo in horrible conditions, while they wait for a trial that may never come. US lawmakers constantly argue over whether to try these detainees in civilian or military courts. Military courts, in these situations, are viewed so badly because they basically function as faux-justice courts where none of the normal proceedings of fair practice or judicial law actually need to be upheld. This holds true for both the US and Egypt, but if anything the Egyptians have it much worse.

It’s fitting for the Egyptian government to have citizens tried in faux-courts because the Egyptian government is a faux-democracy. They have an elected president and a prime minister but half of the time that president (it’s now Sisi) is put into power through a military coup and the other half of the time he’s elected in rigged systems or without running against any opposition. Under this semi-presidential, semi-tyrannical government, the military and police force are given the power to bring any civilians to military trial, under pretty much any charges they see fit. There is no system or precedent to say that a person guilty of any charge, talking back against an officer for example, should face x number of years. The judged make it up on their own, and sometimes a citizen can face years of prison for a “crime” that another walked for. This system is inherently oppressive, and it’s undermining not only democracy but the human rights of Egyptian citizens.



Citizens of the Internet

The article written by Linda Herrera gave descriptive insight into post revolutionary Egypt with special attention on youth involvement and their ubiquity on the web, thus becoming the “wired generation.” The article ties very well with what is occurring in the United States as well in regards to how our generation is “interconnected,” and have “values distinct from generations who came of age in a pre-digital era” (335). Furthermore, I also think its interesting how the article ties into discussion the relevance of the degenerative side of the internet. I think it is interesting to address this side in order to understand the caution one should proceed with when using the internet.

An interesting topic that Linda Herrera brought up within her article was the conclusion drawn that uprisings usually occur and become alive if people are able to exploit political wrongdoings, and “innovate in cultural and intellectual spheres” (337), as Herrera explained is exactly what this “wired generation” did during the Arab youth uprisings. Herrera continues to support her case with biographical evidence from the youth involved at the time of the Arab uprisings, one of these youths being 22 year old Mona.

In Herrera’s article, Mona’s biography provides us with the perspective of what life of an Egyptian youth was like and how her actions against Egyptian taboo opened her mind in order for her to form her own opinions. Another Student, Murad, in a similar situation, was drawn to participate in online games where he learned about accepting differences between players. It was situations like these online that catalyzed a large group of youth to become enlightened through technology, and as one youth described,  “a gateway to heaven.” What technology has done overall to Egyptian youth before the revolution, was open doors to the world for young people like Mona and Murad to build their own opinions and ideas, which then led to the youth demographic to question their ruling governments authority.

Food, Water, Shelter & Internet

“Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed talked about how…depriving him of Facebook would be like ‘blocking air to my lungs.’ The social networking site had become an extension of his social, political, psychological, and even spiritual life.” (Herrera, 347)

This is quite different than the narrative David Cronenberg poses in his 1983 hallucinatory Videodrome, the film Professor Siegel screened for the first week in his Media Criticism course. The hero’s journey, in the case, is a gradual fusion between flesh and media technology, played out in the most damming manner imaginable—the idea being that the more we consume media, eventually the media will consume us (and be the death of us).

Just as we cannot take Western SMT’s findings and airdrop them into the MENA region, neither can we effectively apply Western medium theory towards these non-Western social structures. If our Western understanding of medium theory is that new digital mediums are helping collapse our brains into themselves—with numbing onslaughts of distractions and unfinished thoughts—forcing our brains to ‘multitask’, and desaturating the effectuality of everything we ‘do’, then what the paragons of key revolutions in the MENA region have taught us is that the new social medium, Internet, operates on the human brain in varying way around the globe. Decontextualizing the role social media play in Western society and into the authoritarian sociopolitical landscape of, say, Egypt is key in starting to comprehend what effect such a swath of global information and far-reaching, free, instantaneous communication tools can have on the lawfully repressed human mind.

Whereas social media for the ‘Wired Generation’ of the West ‘fill in the blanks’ of our daily lives, turning a five-minute wait for coffee into what seems like a split-second trip into our personal media consumption hole, a platform such as Facebook can occupy the negative space in the experiential reality of an Egyptian young person. In a reality in which external forces are constantly attempting to define an individual, to generalize her, to rob her of agency, to author this person’s beliefs and control her thoughts, an outlet of free information exchange—something we all take for granted, to the point where we may dismiss great works of art in exchange for the latest Buzzfeed article because it ‘entertains’ us more and requires less of our effort—can fill her with life, with purpose, with ideas and identity. Unrestricted Internet access for everyone is the contemporary equivalent to mass-produced books—it brings knowledge to those lacking agency, bringing self-awareness to their collective abilities to demand freedom.


Tools for Activism

The power of the internet is explained in Herrera’s article. Being able to browse and stay online not only allows people to connect to each other, but also allows ease in collaborative efforts such as activism. Herrera explains the power of togetherness that is obtainable through social media by introducing to us the Middle East and North Africa youth. The MENA youth was able to find these media outlets in order for their voices to be heard amongst other Middle Eastern and African citizens. The ability to bring people together promoted a sense of community and a greater idea of what the government is actually doing.

Herrera talks about Mona who was able to utilize the internet to learn about different cultures and people around the world despite her poor English. “For Mona, chat rooms provided an opportunity to talk about and spread Islam, to broaden her social circles, and to seek out contrary positions in order to form her own opinions about important issues of the day” (Herrera 341) This last quote really resided with me because I feel like more and more people are doing what Mona is doing in order to spread awareness of the past and current events of different parts of the globe.

At first, many of my friends gave reactions to shocking events through Facebook and Twitter. Then, as we got older, I’ve been seeing many informational responses in the form of paragraphs, even essays on the important issues today and I’m very pleased to see all these wonderful opinions on our country and beyond. Whether or not I agree with any of the posts or comments I see on social media, I’m at least happy that more people are starting to care about the world in a different degree. An interesting question that I came up with while reading the article is, “how does this cultural change of utilizing social media affect our views on politics/social activism?”

How Egypt and the U.S. Can Help One Another

As I mentioned in class on Thursday, the fact is that social media and digital technology as a whole carries an altogether different weight in certain regions of the world. In the United States and certain parts of Europe where we can enjoy more liberties than say Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, social media and digital technology has achieved a level of trivialness to it. A large portion of media exists primarily a entertainment for the masses. In countries like Egypt, these same technologies are more of a tool to fight back against authoritarian military rule. Where we post videos of us and our friends standing still while Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles or paste the Jordan crying meme over anything we can, the digital generation of other countries post horrifying evidence to injustice. The digital generation of other countries create movements, an unofficial network, a system of resistance where it can only exist. The digital world is a safe haven in countries like Egypt. Don’t get me wrong, all across more privilege countries social media and the digital plane are being utilized to galvanize the masses. Especially recently, places like Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr have been used to organize movements like the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, and the Occupy movement. There are two things you can say about this:

The first would be that these movements are all fairly new considering when countries like the United States were first introduced to social media. This fact can be both concerning and comforting. It is concerning because it speaks to a sort of devolution of society. It seems as if more and more problems arise everyday. Every time you look at your phone a new social injustice threatens to further divide our society. But one can argue that all of these social injustices have always existed only now with the blazing fast interconnected network that is social media and the digital age, every single indiscretion is at the mercy of being highlighted and magnified and rallied against. And that’s why the fact that so many movements are popping up in the digital realm is comforting. Because people are finally beginning to understand how to use social media and other digital outlets as ways to unite and inform and fight for what is right and just. Because the internet is no longer just a place to find memes or porn or other nonsensical stuff. Because online you can find support from people you’ve never even met. All of these reasons are why things like Black Lives Matter are important and comforting.

Which brings me back to the youth of the digital age in places like Egypt. Since their inception Twitter and other social media platforms have been tools utilized by the citizenry of Egypt to fight back against the military rule. Because of this these societies have been learning how to use their digital advantage for much longer than other more privileged places. Like I said, in Egypt the capabilities of Twitter matter much more than in some parts of the United States. The power of digital technologies is not only more valuable but it has been explored more by the youth and the oppressed. It is because of this fact, the fact that the youth of Egypt have been fighting their fight for years and years in the digital realm, that the studies and research on the impacts of digital technologies on the new generation should focus in places like Egypt. Not only that, but that countries like the United States should both pay close attention, and work vehemently with digital warriors of these regions to fully explore the revolutionary power of new technology.