The Kids Aren’t Happy: How Unemployed Youth and Social Media Are Remaking The World
The Kids Aren’t Happy: How Unemployed Youth and Social Media Are Remaking The World A Digital Report from the Robarts Counterpublics Working Group Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies Daniel Drache Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies Daniel Joseph Research Associate April 2011
We start with the single question: Are social media and the g rowth in the under 30 demographic, globally the driving forces in the struggle against authoritarian elites?
2010 and 2011 have seen an explosion of popular secular uprisings, on par with the fall of East Germany in 1989. Throughout the Arab world, ‘days of rage’ are directed against authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
These states had destroyed almost all independent civil society organizations. They created a monster police-state apparatus that imprisoned tens of thousands, torturing countless others.
At the core of this turbulence is a defiant generation that sees no future in a status quo world. They are university graduates with nothing to lose and a future to gain. They are smart. They are under 30. They are jobless. They are tech-savvy. They represent a worldwide youth demographic revolution.
Is social-media the key to understanding the Jasmine Revolution in all of its complexity? The most powerful theoretical analysis, found in Joseph Nye’s The Future of Power, is that the new power dynamics are driven by citizen’s ability to network and mobilize with hand-held information devices. As a consequence political hierarchies of authority are being challenged as never before.
Information technology is shifting power towards the citizen. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accelerate the dissemination of resistance-based narratives that are then broadcast by global news networks.
Are these technologies effective weapons for advancing democracy or are they overrated and oversold as messengers of new citizenship practices? Popular thinkers like Malcolm Gladwell, Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky trade blows over the utility of social media to the future of radical change.
Gladwell thinks that social media does not play a major role if people want to revolt. Hence his most iconic language: “ The revolution will not be tweeted.”
Gladwell is worried that too many “tweeting” voices unconnected by the strong ties of a unifying ideology, means that embattled social movements won’t achieve their goals. For success we need to look to hierarchical movements of the past that emphasized the “strong ties” of activism.
Morozov sees social media and the Internet as alternative spaces in which to exert control and manipulate new citizenship practices. When we log on, we find ourselves the subject of Foucaultian cyber-surveillance. Under pressure, global corporations such as Google, share data with governments.
Shirky believes that the Internet and mediums like Twitter serve to organize our society across ethical and religious divides. His big idea is “cognitive surplus,” our society’s abundance of intellect and time. The Internet encourages us to be creative and generous in daily life. As he stresses, “Our social media tools aren’t an alternative to real life, they are part of it.”
Shirky is not a technological determinist. It is what people do with the technology that counts. Social media can transform the human condition and create a world of millions of voices. The challenge for people is to find a unity of purpose. When they do, they are a potent force. Shirky says that “ Governments are afraid of synchronised groups, not synchronised individuals.”
Right now at least, there is no “master-tweeter” in North Africa or elsewhere. The revolutions don’t conform to a hierarchical, Leninist organizational structure where the leaders control everything. They are organized horizontally, not vertically.
An even stronger way to understand the transformative impact of social media is tied to Amartya Sen’s definition of capacity-building. As communications technologies spread through the Arab world, every under-thirty “textster” today has the potential to play a unique role building democracy.
Smart phones are small, powerful computers providing instant Internet access. They are ever-present in the hands of today’s tech-savvy youth. They are cheaper than ever to buy and use. The rates of market growth in cell phones are spectacular, more than 15% annually in many parts of the global south.
Jürgen Habermas said the spread of literature, coffee houses and the popular press were key to the emergence of a modern public sphere. That was then. We now live in a world of “tweets”: seamlessly public and private discourse moving in 140 character bursts. This has become the forum for millions of conversations.
However, micro-activism only takes us so far. The role of Al Jazeera’s cameras on the ground in the Middle East has to be emphasized. Al Jazeera “sets the news agenda,” “from every angle” and across borders, giving those without access to the Internet the knowledge that there are multitudes like themselves.
In states like Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, governments are pushing back hard with propaganda, technology and guns exploiting the vulnerability of unarmed protesters.
This graph of the Mubarak government shutting down the Internet shows how critical new media had become as an agent of change in the battle for Egyptian democracy.
We must not forget the role that hard-power still plays in the Middle East. There are three models of mass mobilization in play: first the bottom up triumph of democratic forces like in Tahrir Square against the Egyptian police state. The second is non-violent resistance against despotic states like in Bahrain where the state is ready to fire on its own citizens.
The third model is armed resistance by militias, pro-democracy rebels and soldiers from the old regime against despots like Gaddafi in Libya.
Police states depend on fear to discipline the public and keep civil society on a choke chain. The information revolution has given rise to a renewed liberal humanism, a concern for others and a commitment to human rights.
The most striking aspects of this liberal humanism is its collective individualism and tolerance of difference as Charles Taylor has theorized. Yet there is a firestorm to come of fundamentalist-based identity politics. The question is, will the people’s revolution of Tahrir Square survive the monumental testing ahead?
McLuhan said the medium is the message: technology trumps all. Today, with Twitter and Facebook, the message is the message: Get organized, stay mobilized, build democracy.
Cynics said social technology was no match for the security states of these repressive regimes. They were wrong; however, there is no single theoretical answer for the success in Tahrir Square because the participants were just as surprised at how powerful these hand-held devices and information technologies were.
Tech-savvy kids have learned step- by-step how to master social media, and they have succeeded beyond all expectation. So far, so good.
Photo credits: Page 3: (Left) Joe Raedle/Reuters -- http://bo.st/fjHidZ (Right) Pedro Ugarte/Getty Images -- http://bo.st/hjEx2e Page 4: Cheep998 -- http://bit.ly/eSjJDI Page 7 Source Unknown Page 8 (Left) Nurgeldy -- http://bit.ly/ekoKtG (Right) Moker Ontwerp -- http://bit.ly/hxN5Tu Page 9 Seymour Chwast/The New Yorker -- http://nyr.kr/9Y92DZ Page 10 AFP/Getty -- http://bit.ly/5gVx6n Page 11 Erik Naumann – http://pandastrong.com/ Page 16 Khaled Said -- http://on.fb.me/gt9xZp Page 19 (Left) Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters -- http://bo.st/hjEx2e (Right) Reuters -- http://bit.ly/gJIwB3 Page 21 (Top) Al Jazeera English -- http://bit.ly/hI3Onq (Bottom) Al Jazeera English -- http://bit.ly/eYfqdd Page 22 (Left) Goran Tomasevic/Reuters -- http://bo.st/fjHidZ (Right) Goran Tomasevic/Reuters -- http://bo.st/fjHidZ Page 23 Dylan Martinez/Reuters -- http://bo.st/hjEx2e Page 24 Ruby Washington/The New York Times -- http://bit.ly/egnFgi Page 26 Source unknown -- http://bit.ly/hxnQFJ Page 27 Hussein Malla/Associated Press -- http://bo.st/fdG51y
The Kids Aren’t Happy: How Unemployed Youth and Social Media Are Remaking The World For questions or comments, please contact: Daniel Drache: email@example.com Daniel Joseph: firstname.lastname@example.org
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