Information is at our fingertips. Thousands of articles circulate the web each day, making knowledge about the surrounding world more accessible to us than it has ever been before.
For the past few decades, we have been made increasingly aware of all that the world encompasses—whether it is culture, natural occurrences, politics, or atrocity. This accessibility has largely been dictated by the emergence of new technology and media, allowing major historical events to be globally communicated via real-time news by primary sources.
This phenomena is often referred to as globalization, a buzzword that has become increasingly popular since the 1990’s, as society tries to decide what this interconnected, overlapping system of shared experiences means in the context of our own lives.
In many ways, there is beauty to globalization. Globalization lets us connect to one another in ways unimaginable a century ago. It allows us to speak face to face despite distance via programs like Skype; it allows us to view a constant stream of photos and events, seeing our friends lives on a daily basis; it allows us to send a quick message in a matter of seconds via text; and it allows us to voice our opinions on a global platform, reaching cross cultural audiences.
But as we connect, do we also disconnect? As we figure out ways to feel closer, we must question if it is an artificial feeling. For how connected can we be if we are behind a screen?
Being behind a computer screen has become a more comfortable form of interaction for most of our generation, rather than interpersonal communication. It allows us to voice our opinions without fear of rejection and to project our social viewpoints without much thought.
These two aspects of social media are single handedly killing historical forms of activism—marching, public speaking, protests, physical petitions, and strikes. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have allowed us to share a message that we find important, and then step away from it, as we continue to scan our friends’ feeds.
We continuously absorb social justice messages, but we don’t take the time to act upon them. This inaction is commonly referred to as “slacktivism” or “hashtag activism.” And we have all taken part in it. There have been a slew of examples in the past year.
#BringBackOurGirls began to encourage political leaders both in the US and Nigeria to put resources into finding the 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group. Though the movement gained support from
civilians across the globe through the support of celebrities, and even the First Lady, Michelle Obama, it was largely forgotten within a few weeks. However, the mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends of the Chibok girls have surely not forgotten them. What did our momentary, fleeting compassion mean to them?
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is another example of a largely internet-based social awareness campaign. Despite the campaigns widespread success, the challenge has done little to educate the public on ALS or the importance of donations. Many participants in the challenge completed it for shock-value and neither researched the debilitating disease or donated a dollar. The average participant spent more money on the ice than on funding research that could help make the lives of ALS patients better. What do the thousands of Ice Bucket Challenge videos really mean to ALS patients?
The most recent prevalently broadcasted social injustice took place in Ferguson, Missouri when Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager, was shot and killed by a police officer. How quickly will we forget this? What atrocity will come next to divert our attention? How can we create social change when we refuse to devote time and thought to our actions? Who is really listening to us when the only voice we are projecting is stuck inside a computer?
Social media outlets have been beneficial in creating a platform for marginalized groups to communicate and share experiences. After Michael Brown was killed, the hashtag “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown” began trending on Twitter. Members of the movement posted a photo that they thought truly depicted themselves, as well as an image that they thought a media outlet would use if they were killed. The first photo showed them in good light, in a graduation cap, with their children, or in military attire. The second photo portrayed them as a stereotype, as a thug, certainly not an upstanding citizen. These photos helped show how Michael Brown’s death was framed, as a person of color, by the media.
Twitter has also proved a helpful forum for activists to start conversations on a large scale. Suey Park, an Asian-American activist, used the twitter hashtag “#NotYourAsianSidekick” to begin a forum for women of color rejecting American society’s normative stereotyping of Asian women. With this, Park was interested in creating a tool to develop conversation and encourage decolonization.
Social media can be used as a forum to promote ideology and begin conversation. However, it is unacceptable to not move past the point of conversation, into action. It is unacceptable to not continue to seek information, to ask questions, and to demand answers.
When we “retweet”, when we “hashtag”, when we “share”, we allow ourselves to feel more moral. We feel like we are good people because we have shown a level of awareness. But don’t we, in fact, become guiltier of perpetuating social injustice once aware? Our inaction upon awareness makes us implicit in a form of systematic
oppression. In truth, our new form of activism, our “slacktivism” enables us to be lazy, cowardly, and, in return, to feel good about it.
As a communications major, I find this deeply troubling. I question what the importance of my profession will be in a decade. I wanted to enter the field so that I could empower people to be agents of change. But when I see how media is overwhelmingly used by our generation, often by myself, I wonder what my impact will realistically be. What is the point of my skill set when people will only forward information on to the next person, rather than receiving it as a call to action, and acting upon it?
Activism should not be an isolating experience. Activism should be rallying, speeches, emotion. So let’s step away from the computer, put down the cell phone, and reconnect with the real world in order to take on and help solve its problems.
Charlotte Robertson is a freshman Integrated Marketing Communications major that does her social activism the old-fashioned way – with a megaphone and a handmade sign. Contact her using technology at firstname.lastname@example.org.