Time-Wasting Sink Holes

Stephen Balkam makes the ever so common point that to many people in today’s culture, many social networking websites are viewed as “time- wasting sink holes for narcissistic teens and adults who should know better.” I know this a common portrayal of today’s youth and the web because I hear it from my father every time I see him. “I just don’t understand who wants to waste their time on facebook posting about what they did every second of every day, don’t you have better things to be doing with your life?” I’ve heard this statement from my 62 year old father at least 20 times. I don’t know if it’s one of those scary moments you have in life where you notice you’re turning into your parents or what, but the older I get the more I agree with my Dad. This is all part of the stigma that social media is a waste of time. Very frequently while I’m perusing buzzfeed and scrolling through my facebook newsfeed, I question why I’m wasting my time. I have so many better things to be doing with my life and I don’t want to look back and see that I’ve wasted so many valuable hours of my life stalking someone’s instagram back to 48 weeks ago or trying to formulate a tweet in under 140 characters that really articulates and explains the love I have for grilled cheese. These thoughts go through my head every day, but somedays my thoughts stray in the opposite direction. 

Some days I think, “good thing I checked facebook or I wouldn’t have known the “Spread the Word to End the Word” event was happening today” or “I’m glad I refreshed my twitter feed to see the new link to a charity my best friend is supporting so I could donate too.” Facebook and twitter can also be marvelous tools to get ‘the word’ around. Each minute you have at least 40 of “your friends” constantly online and they will see when you post about something important. The article claims that this new-age technology and media brings about “web-based activism and people-centric leadership” in Egypt, which is a very new concept. People “without direct leadership or guidance from oppositional parties, have self-organized, acted, engaged and participated in a series of protests and demonstrations in order to bring about change. But what is more remarkable, is that these self-organizing digital citizens have also taken it upon themselves, to remove litter from the streets, protect their national treasures, direct traffic and create local pseudo-police forces in the absence of any credible law enforcement help.” This is a direct example of media and technology being used for good. If you want to make a difference and get people involved, putting it on social media is the way to go. Everyone will see it and the more popular it is the more it will spread. In Egypt, people are being digital citizens and making a difference using social media. They are banding together to both fight for what they believe in and also to make their country a better place. These digital citizens understand the power of today’s youth and their mass. 

So we in the West and those of us laying the foundational stones for this emerging concept of digital citizenship, have much to learn from our Arab friends. They have shown a remarkable degree of self-organization using the new technologies. They have also demanded their rights while also accepting their responsibilities. They have used Twitter and Facebook in ways that were unimaginable to their respective founders and shown these and other social networking tools in a light contrary to their portrayal as time-wasting sink holes for narcissistic teens and adults who should know better. I am hopeful that in months and years to come, we can travel to Egypt and see for ourselves how a nation with 50% of its population under the age of 25, has come to transform itself and the notion of what it means to be a citizen in this digital age.

As we’ve read in many articles in class, teachers today must prepare students for the digital age and their extremely technological future. To make students digital citizens you must inform them on safety. I think that is one of the most important things today’s youth must know. Anything you post on the internet is there forever; from that incredibly heinous picture of you from 7th grade (or in my case all of them) to the party you’re inviting many underage drinkers to – it’s on the internet for the rest of time. People can find what you post and look back so you must think before you post. I think the the other key today’s digital age students must understand is how to use technology for good. Going back to my dad’s comment on how facebook is a waste of time, yes it definitely can be if you don’t utilize it in the right ways. I think teachers need to explain to their students the awesome ways social media can make you connect with your peers, community, political leaders, and the other side of the world. I think schools need to share examples of how digital media is making the world a better place. I would have never known about the digital citizens in Egypt making these differences in their country if I had not been given this assignment and I think that’s sad. Everyone should know about the great differences today’s youth is making around the world because it teaches my peers and I that we can make a difference as well. 

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